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Opinion: Biamp’s Graeme Harrison on the future of AV networking

Biamp Systems is in many ways ‘protocol agnostic’ as we provide interfaces to most commonly used protocols and plan to continue doing this in the future. We do, however, use AVB as our central media networking protocol and I will attempt to clarify how we view AVB and its evolution.

In 2004, the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) started an Ethernet study group for AV streaming. This became the Audio Video Bridging (AVB) Task Group to serve three main industries – pro AV, consumer electronics and automotive. More recently, a fourth major group, industrial, was added to this and the task group was renamed Time Sensitive Networking (TSN) in November 2012 to reflect the expanded scope of their work.

The task group ratified a collection of low-level IEEE 802.1 standards that are applicable across all four industry segments as well as some higher-level IEEE 1722 standards with specific applications for clocking of AV media streams. The AVnu Alliance is an interoperability consortium of manufacturers (similar to, for example, the Wi-Fi Alliance), which sets standards and certifications for interoperability of AVB-enabled devices.

Biamp supports AVnu Alliance and AVB as we believe in an open standard (along with an open, third-party interoperability certification), specified by the same body as other IT standards and applicable across industries. This gives the best possible chance of an enduring, ubiquitous protocol that our customers can easily use and which IT departments will embrace. The open nature of the standard, with no licence fee, helps us achieve our goal of pushing the network cost-effectively out towards the endpoints. The addition of the industrial sector and the increasing scope of TSN further reinforce the power of the underlying protocol. With companies such as Intel, Cisco, General Electric (GE) and National Instruments (NI), among others, actively pushing TSN forward, its future seems more assured than ever.

This is, as far as we are aware, the first time that a truly open standard has been used for media networking in our industry, although obviously the TCP/IP suite of protocols has long been used for control data. The newness of this situation is frightening to some within our industry and we totally understand this, but we believe that the advantages of AVB, and especially the underlying TSN protocols, provide a compelling path forward.

TSN looks like becoming ‘the time-sensitive data protocol of the Internet of Things’ and it’s important for our industry to be a part of this and of the related smart buildings movement. As well as this larger picture relevance, an IT focused standard enables the use of other, highly desirable features, such as that of Energy Efficient Ethernet, another IEEE standard (802.3az). This is important in the green buildings movement, and it has been estimated by Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory that it could save $450 million per year in energy costs in the US alone.

One disadvantage of an open standard is that its development is public and therefore it can seem ‘half-baked’. This perception is certainly true of AVB and AVnu, but it was also true of many highly successful open standards in the past (as discussed below); it is just new to our industry.

Another much-discussed possible disadvantage of a standard where there is no company directly profiting from it is that it might not be developed quickly, or at all. The work on the 802.3 (Ethernet) and 802.11 (wireless) standards show that this need not be the case and that in fact a more sustainable, profitable ecosystem emerges from an open specification. The evolution of AVB to incorporate a broader TSN base, as well as the many active AVnu working groups, illustrates that this set of standards is already moving quickly to support the technical evolution of the industries that it supports.

In conclusion, it is important for the AV industry and for Biamp especially, to be a part of a larger, more relevant technology industry, especially as technology increasingly blurs the lines between business types. Biamp firmly believes that through AVB – especially now with the addition of TSN and the industrial arm of AVnu – this is a crucial time to participate in this conversation.