Trends in Technology: Voice over IP in Broadcast Studios


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It’s only reasonable that we begin a discussion of bringing VoIP into the broadcast studio by answering the obvious question: Why? The simple answer: VoIP has become the new standard for telephone service -- initially because of cost, and now because of the benefits of open standards and commodity network hardware.

A PBX used to cost from $35,000 to $120,000 for an average suburban radio station. Once you committed to that supplier’s switching platform, you were locked into using their phones, service organization and software as well. Frequently, you’d be locked out of your own system. Because of the expense and pain of changing, you’d be stuck with that choice for 5-8 years in most cases.

Telos VSet1

Telos VSet1


Of course, some users fooled around with early computer-based VoIP efforts in an effort to save on long distance charges. Back then, the quality was sketchy and you could only call other PC users. You might have to endure pop-up ads for X10 cameras or questionable mortgage brokers. You had to use a headset and your PC would have to be on at all times to receive calls. Over time, the Internet’s capability to transport phone calls and streams steadily improved, as did the network infrastructure in most businesses.

Eventually, dominant PBX manufacturers Cisco, Avaya, Nortel and Mitel began making smaller PBXs that used VoIP internally or across LANs, finding that using commodity hardware and the new switching techniques could reduce their own costs and price points. Cell phones became more commonplace, and expectations of audio quality and overall network reliability became quaint and distant memories.

Broadcasters became more IT-savvy, and now had “an IT guy” on call or on site in many cases. That IT guy (and eventually the current crop of broadcast engineers) became more comfortable with fairly sophisticated IT issues such as switches and routers, eventually feeling far more comfortable with network hardware than with the more mysterious legacy telephony hardware.

VoIP advances

As time went on, VoIP was used more and began to perform better and better. While issues remain, it’s now beyond simply being merely viable and is well on the way to becoming the standard. In other words, if you ask your phone provider about SIP trunking these days, the likelihood of the response being a blank stare is far less than in the recent past, and far better than ISDN at this point in history.

As time went on, VoIP was used more and began to perform better and better. While issues remain, it’s now beyond simply being merely viable and is well on the way to becoming the standard. In other words, if you ask your phone provider about SIP trunking these days, the likelihood of the response being a blank stare is far less than in the recent past, and far better than ISDN at this point in history.

Typical installation of an IP-based on-air phone system. Click to enlarge.

Typical installation of an IP-based on-air phone system.
Click to enlarge.


Having said that, the differences that VoIP brings the broadcast arena are probably more important than the similarities. With VoIP, you, not the vendor or supplier, can choose the codecs to be used on an individual call or phone type. For broadcast use, higher fidelity codecs like G.722 are easily used, even at the desktop or conference room level. Of course you’ll need those higher quality codecs at both ends of the call, but that’s easily accomplished if not already the default.

The phone sets, or endpoints in IT terms (because they may not even be physical telephones) use open, published standards to communicate with the PBX and network. This means you can mix and match, buying phones that you like for a particular user or use. Naturally costs of these have declined and the number of choices has risen.

Connecting with the outside world (the Public Switched Telephone Network – PSTN) is now done in many ways. Historically, we’ve used Plain Old Telephone Service (POTS), an ISDN PRI (a T-1 line set up to use one of the channels as a call set up channel or data channel), or in some cases, even analog E&M trunks for PSTN connectivity.

-- continued on page 2



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