CCW 2014

Panel: Bonded Cellular ENG Still ‘Crapshoot’

While tech advances like bonded cellular technology have given news teams newfound mobility, they also create issues that didn’t exist before and need to be carefully considered, says CBS Newspath's Tom Fearing. “Nothing is easier than handing somebody a tape."

For all its portability and ease, new newsgathering technology, such as bonded cellular equipment, comes with a range of complexities that can diminish its reliability, and the quality of footage it creates, an industry expert says.

“It’s kind of a crapshoot as to whether it’s going to work or not,” Tom Fearing, director of technical operations at CBS Newspath, said, adding that factors from a big crowd with phones to spotty cell service can cause transmission problems.

Fearing was one of several tech leaders who discussed the evolution of newsgathering at the CCW-SATCON conference Thursday in New York.

He said that while advances like bonded cellular technology have given news teams newfound mobility, they also create a new range of issues that didn’t exist before.

“Nothing is easier than handing somebody a tape,” Fearing said.

Making decisions about which gear to use — or not to use — can be “just totally overwhelming for the producing staff that just wants [a story] covered,” Fearing said, but it’s essential that thought goes into it. “If you don’t take into considerations and challenges, chances at success diminish.”


He also said footage transmitted through mobile backpack units can’t compete with the “pristine, quality and rock solid” images transmitted via satellite.

However, Fearing, as well as his fellow panelists, agreed that the range of newsgathering technology has its place, and that bonded cellular equipment, for example, is ideal for covering breaking news. It also expands capabilities for small-market stations that can’t afford to go out and buy satellite trucks.

Arnie Christianson, who used to work at CNN and is now with SES, the satellite services provider, says that while he’s seen a slight drop off in news organizations using satellite, that industry also is experiencing growth due to broadcasters using the technology to cover big sporting events. “You are not going to see the Super Bowl being covered over a bonded cellular backpack,” he said.

Christianson said that when he was in Brazil for the World Cup, he saw both forms of newsgathering equipment in play. Local news crews used bonded cellular equipment for live shots. Satellites were used to transmit footage of the event itself.

“It was the absolute perfect exploitation of the technology. That is exactly what it is supposed to do,” he said.

Read more CCW-SATCON coverage here.

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