Congestion on a cellular network can pose a challenge to media organizations, as live video transmission from overcrowded areas may experience interruptions. On top of traffic issues, the physical terrain of the streaming location may also affect cellular connectivity, including distance to cell towers, and physical barriers between the cellular devices and the towers such as walls, buildings and natural terrain. However, there are several tools that can be used to help guarantee a stable signal.
News, sports and entertainment organizations using cellular bonding to cover crowded events are competing with an increasing number of people using their devices at the same time, and with more data-hungry applications. As a result, mobile bandwidth overload can occur. In this article we’ll discuss some key methods to overcome such congestion and achieve successful transmission even in difficult spots.
Overall, the cellular uplink experience today is considerably more reliable than it was just a few years ago. Aside from improvements in the technology itself (better antennas, more sophisticated bonding algorithms, smaller units and more powerful video encoders), cellular providers have introduced LTE networks that offer tens of megabits per second of bandwidth in each direction.
Deployment areas of cellular data networks also keep getting broader. Mobile operators are trying other techniques as well, including adding temporary radio elements near a congested area, diverting traffic to older 2G cellular technologies, offloading to Wi-Fi, and applying traffic management techniques to manage the traffic flow. In addition, carriers are planning to deploy multicast as a way to partially assist on the downlink side.
Year over year, when we return to the same venue after the off-season or for the next major event, we often see dramatic improvement in infrastructure, and especially so in large markets, in renovated venues or in venues that recently hosted major events like the Super Bowl, college championships, and more (and of course in brand new venues). However, the laws of physics are still in play, and extreme scenarios at crowded events can sometimes still be too overwhelming, so long-term congestion issues remain a scenario for which to plan.
This congestion on a cellular network can pose a challenge to media organizations, as live video transmission from overcrowded areas may experience interruptions. On top of traffic issues, the physical terrain of the streaming location may also affect cellular connectivity, including distance to cell towers, and physical barriers between the cellular devices and the towers such as walls, buildings and natural terrain.
So how can news, sports and entertainment producers ensure that their live content can reach their audience at the highest possible quality, and without interruption? There are several external tools that can be used to help guarantee a stable signal, including external antennas, microwave transmitters and cellular-plus-satellite hybrid solutions.
In many cases, simply increasing the end-to-end delay by several seconds can help overcome congestion by allowing more time for the data to arrive at its destination.
External-powered cellular antennas increase network reception and provide additional resiliency for live video transmission. Such enhanced RF cellular antennas and additional network connections, including both cellular and Wi-Fi, alleviate the bandwidth deterioration, since they add more uplink channels, and will improve the signal quality and the associated bitrate per channel.
Another option is to use a point-to-point or mesh RF transmitters, which provide high-power signal between two or more devices. This tool provides excellent range performance (up to several miles!) and high-speed content transfer.
For example, a photographer can place a cellular-powered external antenna on a vehicle parked outside the congested spot, and communicate with it via RF from within the congested zone. A set of repeaters can also be utilized from inside a venue to overcome RF line-of-sight restrictions.
Unlike some costly RF solutions of the past, today there are many cost-effective options that work well in conjunction with cellular uplink and provide a very appealing use case at an affordable cost.
A third option is connection to an IP network directly through a microwave network. In this scenario, a cellular bonding device can connect directly to the public network a microwave IP infrastructure.
A fourth option is a hybrid between cellular bonding and satellite, such as BGAN HDR or KA-band. This can be part of a flyaway kit or a fixed installation on a vehicle.
You can also mix and match between many of the above, for example, using KA-band on one side, a cellular bonding device on the other side and point-to-point RF to connect between them.
An important step field crews can take, when possible, is careful site planning prior to the live event, as it can help determine where to place the external cellular antennas, RF transmitters, flyaway satellite dishes, etc.
One should take into consideration the technical constraints of the wireless RF link, the local topography, the anticipated congested area boundaries, the desired camera and cellular transmission device location, country or venue frequency regulations and previous field test results.
Suitable training on the characteristics of each type of data connection and device, as well as advance planning when possible, will yield an optimal live video stream without having to sacrifice video quality or stability, even in a congested location.
Ken Zamkow, is LiveU’s head of marketing for U.S. and the Americas.