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Commentary: New AoIP Standard Is But the Next Step

Ten years on, reflections about the growth of audio over IP as used in broadcasting

The author is vice president and executive director of the Axia Audio division of The Telos Alliance.

WAY(FM) in Nashville is among those putting AoIP technology to work. It’s hard for us to believe that audio over IP has been powering radio facilities for 10 years. As the first company to launch the technology, we can tell you that it’s been both a very busy and a very cool time.

The use of AoIP in the broadcast facility was the brainchild of Steve Church. He saw how voice over IP was changing corporate America’s approach to telecommunications and realized that Ethernet switches optimized for VoIP (which had non-blocking backplanes to prevent data packet loss during intense use) made them perfect for moving real time audio around a broadcast facility.

Steve and our R&D team realized that one key issue standing between these switches and AoIP was timing. The original Ethernet standard (IEEE-802.3) did not have timing synchronization. Without sync, mixing audio packets from different parts of the facility would be difficult, if not impossible.

Our team devised a way to create and distribute a master clock inside Ethernet, so that all the packets were synchronized. This was just the first of many hurdles we crossed to create a commercially viable system.

Our first customers were the true pioneers, though. Early adopters are known for taking risks, doing so because they believe in the power of something others are scared of. Those adopters recognized the potential of the new technology, and saw that it would propel their projects to completion faster, better, and with less expense.

Sure, they also realized that backing something so new imparted risk to their reputations — but they believed that the upside outweighed the risks.

One of these early adopters was Mark Stennett, vice president of corporate engineering at Univision Radio. Recently, Mark reminded me of his time installing some of the very first Axia gear, in Austin, Texas. Risky? At the time, sure — but now he’s regarded as a visionary.

Mark went on to install AoIP in many of the Univision stations, including their very large facility in Houston.

In those early days, Axia folks ate a lot of airport food, traveling far and wide to teach about the tech. They held one-on-one sessions, and spoke at NAB, AES and SBE events. Unlike previous products that changed our industry, AoIP integrated more deeply into the broadcast plant than any of our earlier innovations, and it took a lot of education to help people allay their concerns. (At the same time, a few competitors worked night and day to scare people away from the tech, too. Funny thing: the naysayers now sell their own AoIP products!)

Today is perhaps the most exciting time in the history of AoIP. More than 4,500 Axia IP consoles and 53,000 AoIP devices are installed worldwide (and the number increases every day). More than 50 partners build products that connect directly to Axia networks, serving broadcasters every day. Thousands of broadcasters have been freed from the mazes of wiring and dozens of different connector types that once infested broadcast plants, saving millions of dollars in supplies and labor.

We’ve partnered with another AoIP company, Ravenna, from ALCNetworx, allowing even more broadcasters to enjoy AoIP; products from more than 70 manufacturers now work together seamlessly on AoIP networks.

So what’s next? Axia’s logo may be a crystal ball, but we can’t see the future. We can, however, make some educated guesses. You’ve probably heard that a new standard, AES67-2013, has been ratified with the intent of enabling interoperability between AoIP equipment providers. With this critical standard in place, it’s easy to foresee a day in the near future when interfaces between networked and non-networked broadcast gear are a thing of the past — everything will finally be networked. Just imagine: Any broadcast device you might wish to add to your studio network will be literally just a click away. Is it possible you’ve already soldered your last XLR connection?

Yes, the state of the art has come a long way in the last 10 years. We’re proud of what’s been accomplished, and we’re excited when we realize that there is more, even cooler stuff on the horizon. To quote Steve Church: “Onward!”

Marty Sacks grew up in radio, beginning as an engineer at WPGC(FM) in Washington in 1976. He joined the Telos Alliance in 1999.

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