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Networking the networkers: the collaboration going on between different alliances

Although their emphases and outlooks may vary (sometimes dramatically so!) there is more col-laboration going on between separate audio networking-related alliances than might be expected

As part of the long and ongoing debate surrounding audio networking technology, there has been a great deal of talk about pro audio finally coming together over ‘shared interests’, ‘joint objectives’ and so forth. And frankly in an industry that has – at times – been characterised by pronounced commercial enmities, it’s hardly been an unwelcome development.

So as Audio Video Bridging (AVB) and multiple Audio over IP (AoIP) related technologies have come to the fore, there have been a raft of new industry alliances – some formal, others less so. The Avnu Alliance, the Media Networking Alliance (MNA) and the Alliance for IP Media Solutions (AIMS) are just three of the organisations to have promoted a more collaborative approach to audio networking.

But the existence of multiple alliances working in similar areas does raise a few fundamental questions, including: Is collaboration between them encouraged and, if so, how is it progressed? And to what extent does collaboration actually occur in the first place?

“We have become a more collaborative industry”

A quick glance at the NAB 2017 schedule of AIMS – the not-for-profit alliance formed in 2015 that promotes the broadcast industry’s transition from SDI to IP-based workflows using standards including AES67 for AoIP interoperability – suggests that there is indeed plenty of inter-alliance collaboration taking place. As well as delivering no fewer than 15 papers through its leadership and member companies during the show, AIMS joined the aforementioned MNA – along with (deep breath) AES, ANWA, EBU, NAB, IABM, SMPTE and VSF – in the IP Showcase area throughout the exhibition.

“I think that we have become a more collaborative industry,” says Mike Cronk (pictured), who is chairman of the board at AIMS as well as being VP of Core Technology at Grass Valley. “In fact when we established AIMS we put forth five priorities and one of those is industry collaboration – hence we have made concerted efforts to reach out to other organisations to come together in support of a common set of protocols, and for interoperability in general.”

By way of example, Cronk points to a formal liaison agreement with MNA – which was established specifically to promote the awareness and adoption of AES67 – whereby the MNA can “participate in any working group meetings – something that they do frequently.” Where there are more general IP-related industry gatherings, “we are very active in planning communications and actively participating in the events themselves”.

With the forthcoming SMPTE 2110 specification set to “leverage” AES67 as part of a set of standards to specify separate essence streams over IP for the purposes of live production, the need for meaningful partnership between vendors and alliances is bound to intensify, agrees Cronk. “This kind of collaboration did have to happen, and AIMS formed at the right time when forces around the market were priming everyone for more [cooperation].”

Even as a separate entity, AIMS is evidently now a highly dominant force in the IP debate, with 71 members and counting at the time this article was submitted in mid-April. The most recent additions include Atos, Encompass Digital Media, sonoVTS and Jupiter Networks.

The MNA also continues to grow, with Symetrix being announced as its newest member at ISE 2017. MNA chairman Rich Zwiebel (pictured) – who is also vice president, Systems Strategy at QSC Audio – draws attention to cross-alliance activity taking place at major trade events such as ISE, NAB and InfoComm, in the form of demos and presentations. This is perhaps only natural given that (in the words of Zwiebel) “a lot of people really do now see the benefit of true interoperability between networks [that is facilitated by AES67], and without there being any need to change [the actual networking technology] that they are using.”

“Many members in common”

The less seasoned observer might wonder if there has been much in the way of collaboration between the aforementioned organisations and the Avnu Alliance, given the latter’s continued focus on a Layer 3-oriented approach for network traffic and other primary differences. And indeed the Alliance does not stint from emphasising its “unique” focus, for example its promotion of “independent, third party certification for interoperability,” as highlighted by John McMahon, vice president of Solutions and Strategy at Avnu member company Meyer Sound.

McMahon (pictured) continues: “Some other organisations may promote ‘plug-fests’ where you connect things to show that they work in a controlled environment. In contrast, Avnu, in conjunction with its testing lab, has gone through the IEEE specification and developed hundreds of tests that each device must pass to make sure the transport layer is absolutely reliable. I think that’s an important distinction.”

Nonetheless, what might be termed an holistic approach to the networking issue means that there is still capacity for inter-alliance collaboration. Patrick Prothe, who is Pro AV segment chair at Avnu as well as being marketing communications director at Biamp, comments: “There are many layers to the solutions for audio and video being transported, managed and configured in a full system. Avnu has many members in common with the open organisations comprised of member companies working together to move the industry forward. Avnu has created liaison agreements with various protocol and networking organisations across markets to make this a reality and we currently have a formal liaison relationship with MNA and AIM. This has always been in the charter of Avnu and is an important part of working to move the industry forward.”

“Inevitable” AVB transition?

As well as collaborating where there are shared interests, Avnu is also working to counter perceptions in some quarters – not least in previous articles published in PSNEurope – that the AVB project is in some way or another lagging behind various AoIP initiatives. By contrast, Prothe claims that the “the emergence of video onto networks really signals the transition to AVB as inevitable”, whilst the TSN (Time Sensitive Networking) extension of AVB has helped to drive interest in certain segments, notably industrial applications.

“We have seen rapid adoption of AVB/TSN in a number of industries where guaranteed reliability of data delivery in a time sensitive fashion is critical,” says McMahon. “We’ve seen widespread activity, for example, in automotive and industrial control systems and in financial networks, and the Avnu Alliance has been a focal point for that broader activity. Adoption in the pro-audio industry continues at a more deliberate pace, in part because of intense competition from proprietary solutions. It may take some trip ups or falls of these other technologies in demanding scenarios to push wider acceptance in our business.”

Prothe (pictured) admits that “certification may seem like a slow process” but expects “the rate to increase as time progresses”. For Meyer Sound, McMahon says that the manufacturer’s CAL series of loudspeakers and Galaxy network platform have already been certified, and “we expect to submit the I/O modules for our D-Mitri digital audio platform this year”.

Elsewhere, L-Acoustics recently announced availability of the the Avnu-certified amplifier controller LA12X, with the LA4X due to be certified imminently. Together, they are the first Avnu-certified amplified controllers to be launched with both Bridge and Listener technology, according to the company. To accompany the introduction of the LA12X and LA4X, L-Acoustics has also updated its LA Network Manager software with an AVB controller, which “eases connection with other systems and integrates seamlessly via an easy and natural user interface”.

Like L-Acoustics (which joined in April 2015), d&b audiotechnik is a fairly recent addition to the Avnu ranks (since July 2016) and remains a firm advocate of AVB. In an open letter submitted to PSNEurope editor Dave Robinson, d&b audiotechnik GmbH head of market intelligence and business development Henning Kaltheuner queried the thrust of some recent AVB coverage in the magazine, and highlighted the increasing levels of engagement with AVB.

“The changes in system infrastructures and business parameters that are introduced by AVB technology are wide and deep,” he wrote. “As a manufacturer that mainly sells long-term investment products to customers we feel responsible for maintaining the lifetime market value of our systems for our customers. Therefore, the perspective we are taking for our strategies is always on a long-term.”

With Prothe alluding to the development of an educational programme “to drive awareness and knowledge of next generation networking in pro-AV, clarify myths and help simplify system installation”, it seems that there is as much scope for cross-alliance collaboration about training as much as specific technologies. Since the future ubiquity of networked audio and video is now beyond question, it is surely through clarity of communication to the broader industry that the greatest number of end-users will be able to take advantage of the advantages that effective network infrastructures can bring.