Dark Fiber & WheatNet-IP in Portland

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Interesting doesn’t even begin to describe what Clear Channel Portland is doing with dark fiber, WheatNet-IP audio over IP, live traffic cams, and two transmitter sites.

Clear Channel Portland Director of Engineering Chris Weiss plugged single-mode fiber optic cable into the SFP modules in the Cisco switches at the edge of the WheatNet-IP network, and voilà! Light. Audio. Action. It’s an STL. Instead of T1s to two of the group’s transmitter sites outside of Portland, he’s running WheatNet-IP audio to the sites on strands of fiber as a primary STL.

We’re all for fiber. From a purely technical standpoint, you can run audio through miles of the stuff without picking up noise. End to end, fiber optic is amazingly clean because it’s made of silica – or sand. You get none of the electrical interference that’s the ban of CAT6 cable past the 100-meter mark, and you won’t have to wait for an act of Congress to get an STL frequency on the 950 MHz band.

Plus, it’s relatively easy to interface to our WheatNet-IP BLADEs, or AoIP access nodes. In Weiss’ words: “The thing about AoIP is that once you turn audio to ones and zeros on the network, you can now do just about anything over IP.” Clear Channel Portland has BLADEs at its downtown studio and the same at each of the transmitter sites. The group added another IP BLADE at the Rose Garden arena for its Portland Trail Blazer feed, and has a broadband fiber optic connection to the video circuits and camera feeds at the Oregon Department of Transportation for Clear Channel’s Total Traffic Network (real-time traffic data service).

The hardest part was getting usable fiber optic connectivity at an affordable price. Weiss said cable companies will talk to you all day long about fiber optics, but buyer beware. There’s often excessive latency on lit fiber because the payload is likely to be routed over someone else’s circuit before it gets to you. (Latency is something we don’t have to deal with at Wheatstone, as the company with the Gigabit Ethernet AoIP system. WheatNet-IP is the only AoIP system for radio that uses fast, or Gigabit Ethernet connectivity; audio latency just isn’t an issue on the WNIP network.)

But not so for dedicated dark fiber, which is essentially unused fiber optic cable left over from the dot-com glut that was once expensive but now can be had for a couple hundred dollars a mile. Clear Channel Portland fell into dark fiber because of a series of telecom acquisitions and divestitures in the Portland area that loosened the grip on dark fiber and made it accessible at an affordable price.

Currently, Clear Channel Portland is in the process of extending fiber to an AM transmitter site, where the group has been using a traditional T1 multiplexer. “We’re going to convert everything at the site to a network, so I’ll probably put a BLADE out there as well to handle the audio,” commented Weiss, who goes as far to say that IP networks are fast becoming the core of radio business these days.

We couldn’t agree more.

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