Data messages over church satellite network

Conversations around originating a webcast for conference, including cameras and mixers.
jeffphil-p40
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Data messages over church satellite network

Postby jeffphil-p40 » Sat Mar 03, 2007 8:38 pm

Are any of you familer with the church's satellite equipment, and specifically the receivers installed in all of our buildings? I am curious if there is any untapped capability of being able to broadcast a data message... I'm not talking about trying to send large files or gobs of bandwidth to church units. I'm thinking something more on the order of a text message, perhaps a few paragraphs, that could be received and delivered to a computer or something over a serial port connection or something of this variety. Any ideas?

-Jeff Phillips

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Postby mkmurray » Sat Mar 03, 2007 11:02 pm

What would the "data message" be useful for?

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Postby jeffphil-p40 » Sat Mar 03, 2007 11:24 pm

If we had the technical capability, I could probably brainstorm 100 different uses for it. As of right now, we don't have it and therefore have never thought of any uses. The first thing that comes to mind would be emergency preparedness communication... Kind of a church version of the Emergency Alert System. However, such a messaging capability could be interfaced with a whole mess of other ideas and gadgets..

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Postby russellhltn » Sun Mar 04, 2007 12:10 am

Well, if nothing else, you could always send some data on the Closed Captioning channel.

But keep in mind that the receivers are strictly receivers. There's no "send" capability.

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Postby jeffphil-p40 » Sun Mar 04, 2007 1:16 am

RussellHltn wrote:Well, if nothing else, you could always send some data on the Closed Captioning channel.

But keep in mind that the receivers are strictly receivers. There's no "send" capability.


Brilliant! Closed captioning is embedded in the video signal itself and will follow that signal wherever it goes, even beyond the scope of the satellite network. TVs will let you select C1, C2, and C3 closed captioning channels. C1 is of course what everybody uses. An encrypted bunch of gibberish on C3 shouldn't bother anybody.

There might be a better way to do something like this with the satellite equipment more directly, but regardless your suggestion proves concept feasibility, which allows us to take a step away from its specifics and just add the idea to our deck of cards that might come into play in future brainstorming sessions as to some possible applications.


Here's just one application that comes to mind. Say something as bad, or perhaps even worse than huricane katrina hits. Everybody has to evacuate a huge regional area in a big hurry. After seeing to the safety of one's own family the first thing every bishop will have on mind is to see to the safety of all the members of his ward. Much of the communications infrastructure is knocked out in the region. Everybody is staying with friends and relatives or in temporary shelters. How do you call your home teacher or bishop to let them know you made it to safety when their houses are destroyed, and all their phone numbers no longer function?

Concept in action -- church puts out a blip in the media that church members should call an 800 number when they get to a working phone to inform their church leaders and families that they made it to safety. An existing call center (MTC referral center, some support group at headquarters, etc.) could serve in a temporary capacity to take such calls, and have a web page to select the caller's home ward & stake, and post a bulletin entry as to the family's where abouts. These bulletin messages could be repeatedly broadcasted as encrypted messages over the church satellite networks. Stake leaders could have access to laptops that can plug into the satellite receivers in church buildings being used as temporary shelters to receive the bulletins so that unit leaders and families could check on their fellow members, even if they don't have functional phone or internet access in the building.


(and yes, I know it only works to receive one-way.)

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Postby WelchTC » Sun Mar 04, 2007 8:08 am

How would the satellite system know who gets what information. Do we have to develop some kind of "pay per view" approach so that in a wide scale event, some ward or stake center does not have to sift through 25 other stakes information to find the details of their unit members?

Tom

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Postby russellhltn » Sun Mar 04, 2007 11:51 am

tomw wrote:Do we have to develop some kind of "pay per view" approach so that in a wide scale event, some ward or stake center does not have to sift through 25 other stakes information to find the details of their unit members?


Depending on the decoder used, that may not be hard. Simply tag the information with the Stake's unit number.

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Postby jeffphil-p40 » Sun Mar 04, 2007 12:54 pm

RussellHltn wrote:Depending on the decoder used, that may not be hard. Simply tag the information with the Stake's unit number.


Indeed. I recall through the 90's when my family had a big 10 ft analog C-Band dish. There was some sort of feature as part of the VideoCipher decoder box that would receive "messages" that were addressed specifically to our box based on its electronic serial number, which just happened to be called a "Unit ID Number". I suppose that's quite fitting with the model of our unit numbers (although our "units" are abstracted from the hardware serial number itself). The only "messages" we ever got from the company were some sort of occasional promotional offer sent specifically to those of us who were subscribed to the same programming line up or channel package that we were. I imagine behind the scenes it was this same sort of capability that allowed them to send signals to our box instructing it to activate or deactivate which channels we have subscribed to whenever our subscription status changed.

These sort of control signals I think were carried out of band--that is, carried in the transponder but seperately from the video signal itself. It is quite likely that the church's receivers pick up similar sorts of messages, as I've seemingly respond to such a control signal when you see them suddenly cut out from their normal BYUTV broadcast to jump over to a brief "auhorization not available" screen for a few moments before re-aquring an encrypted signal bound only for church units, such as regional stake conference broadcasts. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe we now have more than one satellite broadcast occurring simultaneously in opposing regions at some points on our broadcast schedule.

It might very well be possible to send additional mesages in the same manner these control signals are sent to the church receivers. The question is, how do you get such a data signal out of the receiver box? I haven't looked if there is any sort of auxillary data port on our boxes or not. Perhaps there is, which might lead to a more elegant way of implementing such an idea if we came up with a nifty purpose for it. However, as Russell pointed out even if we can't get these sort of out-of-band data messages out of the box, we can certainly pass through in-band data embedded into the NTSC video signal itself in the same manner as how closed captioning works. That will certainly come out the box through its regular composite video out port.

I imagine if this hypothetical box existed to decode such messages, its configuration screens could simply prompt you to enter a list of the unit numbers you are interested. Of course you would enter any unit numbers for wards that meet in your building. Likewise you would enter your stake unit number, and a number representing your welfare region. (We assign something similar to unit numbers to group welfare regions don't we?) The box would continually monitor the signal and whenever it sees a message tagged with one of the specified unit numbers, it would save it to be displayed or used in some manner. The menu options would not be difficult to change so that in the case where members of various wards are evacuated to a different stake, their home unit numbers could be added to the local system to receive messages on behalf of those at the temporary location.

These packets of data could contain very simple text messages to give to the members or leaders in the area. Or, they could contain some sort of encrypted instructional commands that could trigger external equipment to take some sort of automated action, such as triggering a message to be relayed via local amateur radio equipment, or simply to instruct some sort of equipment to "phone home" via a modem or IP connection to confirm everything is in working order. Perhaps after a disaster such an automated phone-home request could aid in rescue efforts by plotting out on a map quite quickly which units still have electricity and open communications lines, allowing an initial response focus to be made on the remaining areas where units are knocked out of service as evidenced by the failure for their receiver to respond to the phone-home request.

-Jeff

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Postby rmrichesjr » Sun Mar 04, 2007 2:17 pm

At least in theory, it would be easy to get the data out of the receiver. The new Church satellite receivers are Wegener Unity 500s. The User's Manual downloadable from Wegener shows an RS232 port on an RJ-12 connector and an option for an ethernet connector, appears to be an RJ-45. (In earlier years, Church satellite support desk instructed operators to _NOT_ mess around with the RS-232 port.) The raw (MPEG) data stream for satellite video is normally about 4-.24.8Mb/s, so a lot of data could be sent down that pipe.

The COMPEL system is very flexible, allowing headquarters to send basically whatever programming to whatever receivers they want. In the past, there have been broadcasts lasting longer than an hour that were shown to each US timezone at the same _LOCAL_ time, implying there were multiple channels being sent, perhaps on multiple carrier frequencies. I seem to recall that there have been multiple of the stake-conference-by-satellite broadcasts at the same time, too.

(I was a stake satellite specialist for nearly 19 years and am now a meetinghouse satellite equipment operator. that's where I get the above info.)

Ever since the conversion from analog video to digital some years ago, and to some extent even before that, I have wondered why the Church did not send digitized genealogy microfilm or something like that over the satellite system to buildings with both a satellite dish and an FHC. Alternatively, software updates such as MLS could be sent over the satellite rather than each ward having to download the thing over dial-up. (At least one ward in a previous stake saw serious increases in their phone bill due to the time required for MLS transfers, of which software download was a significant part.) However, I guess broadband internet (DSL and such) available to FHCs takes care of most of their needs. I have seen indications that someday the unit office administrative computers might be allowed to use broadband for MLS transfers, which would take care of that need, too.

On the other hand, the meetinghouse satellite systems and other potential uses of the data stream appear to be managed by distinctly different departments at Church headquarters. For myself, I don't expect to see anything too revolutionary in terms of sharing between those services. It would be cool, though, if that were to happen.

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Postby jeffphil-p40 » Sun Mar 04, 2007 10:56 pm

rmrichesjr wrote:At least in theory, it would be easy to get the data out of the receiver. The new Church satellite receivers are Wegener Unity 500s. The User's Manual downloadable from Wegener shows an RS232 port on an RJ-12 connector and an option for an ethernet connector, appears to be an RJ-45. (In earlier years, Church satellite support desk instructed operators to _NOT_ mess around with the RS-232 port.) The raw (MPEG) data stream for satellite video is normally about 4-.24.8Mb/s, so a lot of data could be sent down that pipe.


Interesting. I hadn't had a chance to take a recent look at our receiver to get the model info, so thanks for mentioning it. With the existance of this serial port, it might actually be easier to implement such an idea than I would have otherwise guessed.

On the other hand, the meetinghouse satellite systems and other potential uses of the data stream appear to be managed by distinctly different departments at Church headquarters. For myself, I don't expect to see anything too revolutionary in terms of sharing between those services. It would be cool, though, if that were to happen.


Well at least right now I'm pretty sure there aren't any other departments out there that have any potential uses for such of what we have described here. Indeed it would be cool technology if it were put to good use, but it would not happen unless we had a really cool "killer app" that made the implementation both worthy and worthwhile.

So far the only really fantastic application I can think of for such technology is in the emergency prepardness communication response area. I think there is some great potential for that, but I think that is more suited to a different thread or perhaps a different forum. If it comes down to feasbility of implementations, then we can take a second look at this discussion. Does anybody know of any good emergency preparedness forums?

-Jeff


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