The Election, Brought to You on the Go

The New York Times has an article today on how the Fox News Channel is using satcom on the move to report on the presidential primaries:

As the beginning of primary season approaches, Fox News Channel is introducing a pair of satellite reporting units capable of broadcasting live video while on the move. The vehicles, two retrofitted sport utilities, had an early debut on Nov. 30 during a hostage incident at Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign office in Rochester, N.H., and are already raising interest and questions about their potential influence on live television news reporting.

When Leeland Eisenberg, the suspect in the incident, walked into the office and claimed to have a bomb, Fox News saw it as a perfect opportunity to try out its Election Link vans, which can stream live video while moving. Carl Cameron, Fox’s chief political correspondent, jumped into one of the vans to drive to the scene, giving Fox News viewers alternating views of his torso buckled into the passenger’s seat and shots of New Hampshire roads rolling past.

“This is exactly why the Election Link vehicles are going to be deployed by Fox News in New Hampshire and Iowa,” Mr. Cameron said on the air. “The breaking aspect of the politics and the shocking types of events that can happen when presidential politics are in play.”

The vehicles will be sent to Iowa and New Hampshire for campaign coverage before the first caucus and primary, and theoretically will allow Fox to broadcast live video as primary season proceeds. The three-person vans have three cameras: one on the roof, one on the dashboard and one that can be removed from the vehicle and transmit back to it from a distance of up to a quarter-mile.

According to Brian Wilson, Washington bureau chief for Fox News, the vans do have a few technical limitations. “The signal comes in at just a hair short of broadcast quality,” he said.

He said that the vehicles were much less expensive than a traditional satellite van, however, and would be used when mobility and speed, rather than high-quality video, were most needed.

The Times doesn’t go into great technical detail on the roving reporting SUVs, but they could be using ViaSat’s ArcLight platform, as was first demonstrated last year during the Race Across America (and which is being used again in 2007). The Race Across America is billed as "the world’s toughest bike race":

We watched the Race Across America through the ViaSat Web site in 2006, and it was very, very cool, with live, uninterupted video with no "buffering." True, most of the time you would just watch some cyclists pedal away, but the video quality was remarkable.  

While Fox News and the Race Across America are two examples of how satcom on the move can be used, a big part of ViaSat’s market is the federal government, particularly defense

ViaSat’s Mobile Satcom system uses ArcLight® technology to provide affordable, 2-way,"always-on", "cable-like" broadband IP access via satellite to ground, airborne, and maritime platforms while on the move. This Comms On-the-Move system allows commanders, sensors, and weapons systems to interact seamlessly to establish a real-time view of the battlefield and allocate firepower as effectively as possible. The system enables the IP-based capabilities such as live video conferencing, streaming video, and C2PC Situational Awareness.

Americom Government Services also sells the platform, which will also be used for maritime broadband on the AMC-21 satellite that is scheduled for launch in mid-2008.