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Digital Signage T1 Networking
High reliability and wide bandwidth using T1 lines to support digital billboards and other electronic signage.

By: John Shepler

Outdoor advertising in town looks more like an enormous plasma TV than a billboard. It's actually an LED matrix display the same size as the large outdoor billboard it replaces. Unlike the billboards with replaceable vinyl banners, this new billboard can change messages as often as every few seconds. It also glows for easy readability both day and night.

What Digital Signage is All About
Digital signage is the new term for all types of electronic displays including LED video billboards, time and temperature signs at banks, crawling stock tickers, ballpark scoreboards, and flat panel TVs showing ads in grocery stores. The largest examples are the 120 foot tall rounded LED display at the NASDAQ-AMEX Marketsite Tower in Times Square and the enormous overhead LED video screen called the Fremont Street Experience in Las Vegas.

The Billboard Becomes a Video Screen
These gigantic electronic signs are made up of replaceable modules containing high brightness Light Emitting Diodes instead of light bulbs. All-electronic LEDs are low maintenance and can last 70,000 or more hours before needing replacement. They can be addressed individually like pixels on a computer monitor. Clusters of different color LEDs can display millions of RGB (Red, Green, Blue) colors. From normal viewing distances, the LED pixels produce a smooth picture that can be refreshed at video rates. In essence, the billboard has become a TV screen.

Real-Time Advertising Opportunities
While smaller digital signs and simple one color matrix displays are intended for a single business location and programmed locally, many of the larger multicolor billboards are suitable for general commercial advertisements. Signs that have similar resolution to the paper and vinyl panels they replace can serve the same purpose, but with vastly expanded options. Many are used to display a series of different advertisements on a rotating basis. But the potential is there to update images on demand. For instance, a store located near a large billboard could offer 1 hour special sales. A bakery could tell drivers to take the next exit to get in on the hot batch of pastries just coming out of the oven. Billboards could feature breakfast specials to freeway drivers in morning rush hour and dinner specials during evening drive time.

Ad Changes on the Fly
This ability to advertise by day part has long been a staple of radio and TV stations, but now comes within the ability of outdoor advertising as more and more billboards are converted to digital signage. The LED display can also show moving images, even video and TV. The challenge for creative ad departments is now to leverage this new capability appropriately, so the message gets through in the time available to view it.

T1 Data Lines Update the Signs On Demand
Another challenge is to replace the fleet of trucks that go around updating billboards once a week, a month or longer, with high speed network links so that the electronic billboards can be updated on a real-time basis. This requires a private or virtually private network with reasonable bandwidth and high reliability. Some operators use satellite Earth stations or fiber optic cables, depending on what is available. Another option is T1 data lines, which are almost universally available even in remote locations. T1 service is highly reliable, comes with a service level guarantee, and offers a bandwidth of 1.5 Mbps for rapid download updates. The reverse channel can be used to monitor billboard performance or perhaps send video camera images of traffic conditions at the site.

Total Inventory Control
T1 private lines or VPNs (Virtual Private Networks), running on T1 dedicated Internet connections or MPLS networks, offer the opportunity to control an entire inventory of outdoor ad locations from a central point. Advertisers can then pick the locations, times, rotation schedule, and creative updates as needed for their campaigns. New content can be uploaded from advertiser to ad agency to the desired signs almost as fast as it can be created. That's the promise of digital signage networking.

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