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The Beeb, the beat and the Bard: with Janet, the possibilities are endless

Tim Kidd

At Jisc, we want more people to access high quality services and technologies across education groups and sectors. We’re thrilled to be starting new projects which harness the unique combination of speed, reliability and security our Janet network offers.

We know from a recent HEPI report that using the network saves money, contributing annual costs savings alone of more than £200 million across universities. But, as the report explains:

“institutions also gain advantage through the top-class digital facilities and resources that all UK researchers, lecturers and students access and derive value from each day.”

In other words, the network is not just a research tool or an efficiency saving - it’s a workhorse for all kinds of valuable academic work, in all sorts of fields.

The network has been running for many years, so why are we still getting excited about it? Because it’s more than an academic exercise, it’s a facilitator of great technological change – and there are some new projects underway to tap into its potential. Here’s an insight into some of them.

Get yourself heard – and known

We know that, increasingly, institutions need to promote and protect their brand in part because they are now so much more visible through news and social media.

If we could facilitate more, and better, interactions with the press and media, we could potentially save universities money they’d otherwise be spending on advertising. People would also start to know more about their university and about academia if broadcast media could have better access to the university experts.

Media outlets are often reluctant to send a truck to a remote place to interview an expert in a particular field. With this in mind a project was born to stream content to broadcasters, enabling a growing number of universities to use their Janet network connection to provide live news content.

We’re now going live with three ‘broadcast hubs’ around the UK. These hubs have been established in partnership with Globelynx, which has provided hardware including cameras, lighting, sound equipment and encoding and decoding systems as well as a database which makes it easier for broadcasters and experts to schedule interviews.

In addition to providing the network, Jisc has supplied funding to allow three host institutions – Imperial College London, Loughborough University and Liverpool John Moores University – to purchase the equipment necessary to create a professional studio with the supporting technology needed to broadcast the highest quality sound and audio content.

Other universities will be able to book time at these hubs, allowing excellent access to some of the best studios in the UK. And it’s not just universities benefiting from the work – other organisations including museums, hospital trusts, colleges and schools will be able to use the hubs to connect with the media.

Our high speed, low latency, reliable network is just what the media needs for interviews ‘down the line’. Researchers and academics can have their say without an outlet having to send an interviewer or mobile studio, or being forced to rely on the public internet with all the quality problems those connections can bring. It’s quicker, cheaper, and more convenient, and we hope it will allow more academics to have their expert voices heard.

Professor of information and knowledge management at Loughborough University, Tom Jackson, who has previously appeared on BBC News and Panorama to discuss his research , explains in this podcast how the hub technology removes key practical barriers between academic staff and the media.

He said:

“The broadcast hub means I can go to a convenient location on campus, hook up with our own media team, and do broadcasts straight down the wire.

A media appearance once required a two-day trip to a studio in Birmingham or Manchester – now I can get a piece done and be back in my office within ten minutes. This saves me lots of time, which I can spend on my research and my students instead.

With this new system in place, many more academics will want to do pieces for the media because they can fit the activity into their diary. As an institution, this helps further the reach and impact of our research.”

Find out more about how people have been using the network to stream to broadcasters, and what the media have to say about the service.

Good enough for jazz: for ground-breaking remote rehearsals, workshops, and performances

Musicians play in real-time using LOLA 

Watch musicians at sites in Edinburgh and London play in real-time over the Janet network. 

In our digital age it is not only important for universities to promote themselves through the media, but also to raise their profile through joint working and digital partnerships with companies or other universities in the UK and abroad. Not only does the technology of our network allow this type of collaboration, but it also helps to improve students’ skills and experience and makes them ready for a digital workplace. 

We’ve been able to connect music and dance performers across the globe using some unique streaming technology. LOw LAtency Audio Visual Streaming System, or LOLA (created by our Italian counterparts GARR and the Conservatorio di Musica Giuseppe Tartini), makes it possible to interact naturally with others across vast distances via a high speed, high performance network such as Janet.

Previous attempts to rehearse or perform by link-up have not been the ‘real deal’ that our network and LOLA can offer: either they are time-delayed in some way (which is sometimes effective, but not suitable for simultaneous performance) or the delay between sites is unacceptable. Janet and LOLA can broadcast in such high quality sound and with such a short (indeed, undetectable) delay that it’s possible to rehearse, workshop and perform in real time, satisfying even the finely-tuned ears of professional musicians.

The brightest heaven of invention: bringing the Royal Shakespeare Company to life in schools

We’re already part of a national Royal Shakespeare Company project to stream broadcasts of Shakespeare’s plays which relies on our servers for speed, quality and reliability. In the past five years, these hugely popular broadcasts have been viewed by more than 89,000 students.

The events demonstrate the Janet network core’s capability of handling large volumes of digital information.  Past broadcasts, which are streamed into school classrooms at 720p HD, have used more than 1TB over a three-hour period. Our world class infrastructure allows 38 National Student Television Association (NaSTA) stations and 77 Student Radio Association (SRA) stations to offer these live streaming channels.