Guest Post: Curtis Tilly, Microspace
Connectivity is the unsung hero of digital signage, making possible the whole idea of delivering the right message at the right time, in the right location, to the right audience. On-screen content, media delivery, file forwarding and system monitoring all depend on taking a reliable, scalable and cost-effective approach to connectivity.
Connectivity also used to be one of the biggest challenges in deploying networks, but changes in technology, equipment and services in the telecommunications industry have addressed many of the earlier issues and barriers.
New advances in wireless systems, especially, offer advantages to digital signage integrators and network operators alike, making the medium a more viable vehicle for communications of all types. With these advances, wireless connectivity is poised to become a major contributor to the success of tomorrow’s networks.
Given there are many complex pieces in the puzzle of rolling out a successful digital signage network, it is perhaps not surprising how the key elements of network and connectivity requirements often get the least amount of attention in a project’s initial deployment plan. In today’s connected world, it is simply too easy for the signage provider or integrator to assume the network’s operations and management will fall nicely into place, with a minimum of fuss.
Unfortunately, this is very seldom the case, especially in an organization-wide rollout of screens. Challenges involving information technology (IT) infrastructure, network management, security, bandwidth and network support can often present significant hurdles.
At best, these hurdles can delay the launch of a digital signage network. At worst, they can cause it to fail within its early stages of operation.
Recent advances in the hardware and services associated with 3G, 4G and Long-Term Evolution (LTE) wireless networks are providing a strong alternative to local, IT-based systems, particularly when such services are closely managed by a well-established communications provider.
As an organization initially determines its requirements for digital signage connectivity, one of the first and most important issues to address is the security of the network. With many recent virus scares and instances of stolen information, along with a mix of increasingly complex data security standards, companies have started to become very selective about their ‘business-critical’ infrastructure. Increasingly, this infrastructure is being deemed off-limits for non-critical content delivery and other alternative uses.
Given these circumstances, the best path forward may be to run a separate, parallel network for digital signage. Today’s wireless technologies make this option relatively easy to install, highly secure and robust in terms of delivering content to a variety of screens. All business-critical information is kept segregated from signage content, so neither network has the ability to negatively affect the operations of the other.
The existing IT infrastructure at a digital signage network’s host site is also often a limiting factor in the actual deployment of the network, especially if it is a retail location. With the installation of a dedicated, enterprise-grade wireless modem, however, rather than relying on the existing systems, very little additional infrastructure will be required. The modem can be placed in close proximity to the digital signage media player(s).
This approach allows greater flexibility during screen and player installations, saves time and, in the end, enables a lower cost of operations. Rather than having to wait days or weeks to co-ordinate access to an existing carrier’s network or to build and run a new one, each wireless location can be up and running from scratch in less than an hour.
One of the game-changing advantages in this area has been the development of enterprise-grade modems and routers, which are replacing consumer-grade Universal Serial Bus (USB) modems and accessories. The newer devices are designed for 24-7 use—demonstrating levels of reliability competitive with those of wired routers and network equipment—and are equipped with high-gain antennas to achieve greater connectivity in more locations.
Another advantage for wireless digital signage has been the evolution of business models for wireless data services, offering more affordable high-data-rate plans, greater overall bandwidth and use limits and, key to 24-7 operations, support for off-peak reduced-cost bandwidth.
While it was once difficult or impossible to run digital signage without wired infrastructure, wireless services have now evolved to the point where pricing is economical and competitive with the range of other available options.
And as digital signage content becomes more media-rich, wireless data plans have ‘scaled up’ accordingly and many can be upgraded easily on the fly. Services can be adjusted very effectively to match the amount of data being transmitted across the network.
Putting all of these pieces together, the wireless network that was once easily dismissed for larger digital signage network deployments is now a viable option for both content delivery and system monitoring. It has become more cost-effective, easier to deploy and, most importantly, extremely reliable.