Ready, action, videoconference

Originally published in MOREnetworking Vol. 1 No. 9, June 2003

Rain, wind and construction in progress — all the elements for a successful outdoor videoconference, right? No matter how much technology progresses, Mother Nature always has the last word and the key to overcoming the obstacles is to have a knowledgeable, flexible and creative group of people as partners.

On May 16, 2003, MOREnet bridged a videoconference from Frontier Riverfront Park in St. Charles, Mo., the National Park Service and the Cooperating School Districts to provide information on the Lewis and Clark Expedition. This pilot tested all the connections and technology necessary for future remote events with The Discovery Expedition’s Education Initiative.

The May 16 broadcast from the banks of the Missouri River in St. Charles, Mo., included commentary by videoconference moderator Tim Gore, educational coordinator at Wydown Middle School in Clayton, Mo.; speakers from the National Park Service in Omaha, Neb.; Merriwether Lewis portrayed by Scott Mandrell from the Missouri History Museum; students from the Wydown Middle School/Clayton, Mo. School District; and Western Hills Elementary School students in Omaha, Neb.

MOREnet staff observed and assisted with coordinating the connections in St. Charles. Jim Sturm, Enrichment Facilitator at Wydown Middle School, first approached MOREnet three years ago to discuss transmitting remotely from sites along the Missouri River during the re-enactment of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. At that time options were limited and very expensive. MOREnet periodically checked in with him and exchanged information as new technologies became available. After Ohio State University demonstrated its satellite trailer during a MegaConference, MOREnet forwarded the information to Sturm. He was able to use OSU’s trailer for the May 16 broadcast.

Technical Information

The remote transmission was made possible by a portable satellite Internet access system built by OARnet and the OSU Office of the CIO. The trailer carries a small (1.2 meter diameter) dish antenna, plus all related electronics and can be pulled by any vehicle with a trailer hitch. It will provide 24 ports of 10/100 Ethernet to connect to any nearby computers or LANs. The total speed of the satellite connection is 1.5 Mbps/sec downlink and 512Kbps/sec uplink, at guaranteed rates.

The system includes local wireless capability, which can penetrate the wall of a nearby building and provide normal 802.11b connectivity inside the building. It also includes a generator and batteries so it is totally self-contained and can run for more than 24 hours unattended. The system is designed so one person can set up and operate it.

The broadcast used a Polycom Viewstation codec with a wireless microphone and mixer for the commentator. The keelboat carried a wireless Polycom ViaVideo codec. They were unable to broadcast successfully from the boat while it was in motion, though when it was docked the video transmission was fine. They also will need to add a wireless microphone for successful audio. Even though the keelboat broadcast wasn’t available for this pilot event, the conference went very well considering all the variables being tested.

The satellite transmission was sent to Tachyon, Inc. (provider of broadband satellite communications) in Ca., which transferred it to Internet2 and connected to Ohio State’s MCU. MOREnet’s MCU had connections to Ohio State’s MCU via IP, Cooperating School District via H.320, National Park Service in Omaha, Ne. via ISDN and MOREnet’s Polycom VS4000, which connected to a VCR to tape the conference. Ohio State had a connection to a Starbak streaming server that provided live and stored streams of the conference. Cooperating School District connected the Wydown Middle School, Valley Park School, Missouri History Museum and Western Hills Elementary in Omaha, Ne. Apple Computer, Inc. connected to the Cooperating School District via ISDN to receive a live stream that they then rebroadcast.

A stored stream of the May 16 event is available from MOREnet’s website at The stored stream also will be available from Apple’s site at a later date at

Future Plans

The May 16 broadcast originated from the banks of the Missouri River in St. Charles, Mo., next to the Lewis and Clark Museum, which is still under construction. A bobcat, concrete saw and cement trucks added distractions during the testing process and also limited the test time.

hendersonl | Sunday, June 1, 2003 | |


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