Satellite communications have a role in the provision of broadband corporate services, mainly those with inherent multicasting characteristics.
In this framework, the VERDI project aimed at delivering a comprehensive solution, demonstrating the value-added brought to corporate applications and working on the improvement of both the cost-effectiveness of the service provision and the perceived quality of the service.
3D applications have simultaneously used the two main modes of operation of a satellite multimedia platform:
- Access to IP Unicast data allowing final customers to use high-speed Intranet / Internet resources via satellite
- Access to IP Multicast data allowing clients to distribute -and final customers to receive- data in "Push" mode (file transfer and multimedia streaming)
IP Multicasting was used for updating shared database content and avatars position & attitude.
Pilot activities were performed in two sectors and 3 applications were developed on the basis of the VERDI platform and technologies:
E-learning with two applications focusing on:
- The 3D reproduction of a university campus (The Virtual Knowledge City of Nettuno), characterised by a cognitive interface, meant to organise the activities that the student must carry out. Particular care will be given along the project on the one side to the psycho-pedagogical model and on the other side to the integration of already existing learning material (e.g. videos) in a 3D-orientation portal.
- The concept of "Learning by Doing" and the "Learning by Interacting" in the C-VIBE Business Simulation Game of INSEAD. In this application, the distributed, multi-user dimension should increase significantly the value of the learning experience by exposing users to the challenges of interacting, co-ordinating and reaching team decisions within distributed virtual environments (a skill increasingly required in global organisations).
- The application of Inpix Media, dedicated to a do-it-yourself products store web-site, is focusing on the "Context-based e-marketing". The 3D experience increases the product exposure to potential customers reproducing as in the real life "impulsive buying". The suggestion is generated by on-demand rich-media contents (videos, etc.) promoting companies' products and services embedded in the 3D environments. The vendor role is taken by a BOT guiding the customer during the buying process.
3 types of network configurations have been used and tested by the users in this project:
- Direct to Home: PC equipped with a DVB-S reception card
- LAN distribution: Multicast router installed at the head of a LAN allowing fast Internet access via satellite, multicast routing or bridging
- Content Delivery Network: C-Routers installed at the head of ADSL networks feeded in multicast via satellite. These devices are able to transform multicast to unicast to deliver high-bandwidth rich media contents to ADSL users ("live" and "On Demand").
Globally more than 100 users were involved in the operational testing of the VERDI applications and services.
Figure 1: Main C-VIBE user interface
Figure 2: Knowledge Virtual City - Interactive Space Chat & Forum
Figure 3: VERDI e-marketing
click for larger image
VERDI is based on the following key technologies:
- Satellite Multimedia platform, for content multicasting: Satellite communication has the unique ability to deliver bandwidth exactly where and when it is needed - irrespective of geography and local infrastructure. It has therefore become the obvious high-speed transport medium for a wide range of Internet and multimedia services. Satellites are cost-effective and flexible, serving IP and multimedia applications world-wide.
With growing demand for multimedia services, Internet and multimedia service providers and end-users are looking for high-speed access, compatibility, availability and affordability. Satellites offer open standards, wide geographic coverage, and the possibility of interactive Internet access at 2 Mbit/s per user, and data broadcasting services at 40 Mbit/s per transponder.
Satellite multimedia services ensure fast delivery, the latest digital technology, and instant availability world-wide. The use of Digital Video Broadcasting (DVB) technology means high data rates and a combination of high-resolution graphics, fast real-time animation, CD-quality sound and user interactivity. Large numbers of users are able to download bulky files in a very short period of time with affordable transmission and reception equipment.
Smart routing and caching, for content delivery acceleration: VERDI experimented the integration within the Satellite multimedia platform of a system for routing and caching rich media contents to servers located at Points of Presence of terrestrial access networks (ADSL, cable networks, etc.).
This combination enables 1) bringing the contents closest to the users, 2) accelerating the delivery of the contents to the users and then solving the problem of congestion of the Internet, notably for Internet broadband applications. It enables also an optimisation of the use of the satellite bandwidth thanks to the IP multicast protocol without limiting the interactivity for the users.
- VRML and 3D environments: One of the barriers that are slowing down the interest for broadband applications over the Internet is the lack of attractive services for the users. Virtual reality offers more ergonomic and interactive environments particularly well suited for a wide range of applications: e-learning, e-marketing, simulation games, etc.
- VRSAT: The VERDI project developed a JAVA based client/server software communication package that supports information exchange and distribution over the satellite network. VRSAT also ensures the real-time multi-user simulation and interaction capability for the virtual reality applications.
The VERDI project concentrated its Pilot activities in two sectors: e-learning and e-marketing. Even if different markets have different challenges, the project put particular care in proposing and validating "general-purpose" solutions that can be later extended to other business fields.
The project was streamlined into 3 phases:
- The Users Requirements and Overall System definition.
This phase aimed at defining the operational and technical demonstrator environment. It consisted in the analysis of the proposed pilot applications scenarios and in the identification of the functions at user level to be supported by the demonstrator The main outputs of this phase are the final Pilot Utilisation Plan (PilUP) and Pilot System Architecture (PSA).
- The Design, Development and Content Integration phase.
This phase aimed at designing, developing and integrating the applications on the Eutelsat platform. Silicon Worlds developed the 3D graphical environments and the client server: the communications software (VRSAT) which will be implemented on the Eutelsat multimedia platform. The applications providers (INSEAD, INPIX and NETTUNO) integrated their specific contents. The phase was completed by the operational test of the VERDI Demonstrator.
- The Operational and Evaluation phase.
This phase aimed at evaluating and validating the Pilot applications implemented in the project. These tests involved a wide community of users in the different applications. Specific methodology and protocols have been used for each application.
The project has been successfully closed with the Final Review held in ESTEC on February 7, 2004.
The global VERDI concept has been validated for the two market segments:
- Satcoms have been successfully integrated with the targeted applications;
- Conclusions from the trials showed that the VERDI platform brought real added value to e-learning and e-marketing applications thanks to:
- Multi-users and distributed environment (collaborative work);
- Virtual reality;
- Low costs user equipment;
- High-quality Broadband Service delivery.
For more details on the project results and conclusion please refer to the final report.