For getting the news from field to studio, satellite and microwave have served broadcaster well for many years. But cellular uplink systems may be better and less costly alternative. Challenges of making the technology work reliably in tough news environment are being overcome and lease arrangements and data plans make it affordable.
When Satellite, Microwave Just Won’t Do
The live coverage of broadcast events has traditionally been an expensive and logistically cumbersome business. Investing in satellite trucks or using satellite service providers is beyond the reach of many media outlets due to budget constraints, making them unable to service live news and sports events. Even a single camera shot from field to studio typically requires an uplink to satellite, which necessitates booking costly transponder space. Even relying on fibre transmission can limit the coverage of live events. While producers may want to get the audience as close to the action as possible, the need to site RF cameras within a certain radius of a receiving station at times restricts the editorial options.
Further, many personal stories surrounding global news events from war zones, urban areas or remote locations go untold because of the impracticality of access with conventional microwave trucks, or the sheer expense of broadband global area network operation.
However, widening cellular networks and new video uplink technology are bridging the divide, allowing broadcasters the ability to achieve broadcast quality video and audio, without the satellite expense or logistical headache.
The growing connectivity of terrestrial wireless networks including 3G, 4G LTE, WiMAX, and Wi-Fi can provide an increasingly resilient, comprehensive and cost-effective alternative to streaming SD and HD video via traditional satellite and fiber. The equipment is lightweight and highly portable, with the ability to be housed in one backpack with minimal time required for set-up and go. The device can transmit video to a main hub, such as a studio or broadcast center, or directly to an online video player for live streaming.
Wireless network challenges
Wireless technologies can admittedly be notoriously fickle. We’ve all been in a situation where our smartphone signal drops off or operates at a slow pace. This limited or impaired connection is not acceptable in a live broadcast environment. Video transmission bitrates depend on the cellular, Wi-Fi, Ethernet, or BGAN conditions at the time and place of transmission, and on the capacity of network operators. In many areas of the world, there is little signal strength and capacity to stream video. 4G LTE promises to bring even higher speeds and shorter delays to cellular-based video transmission, but there are still shortcomings in the 4G LTE make-up which make reliance on it alone inadvisable.
How do intelligent cellular uplinks work?
One way to circumnavigate signal fluctuation in single mobile uplinks is to aggregate bandwidth over multiple carriers so that collectively they provide enough power to transmit up to 1080p HD signals using H.264 encoding. This can be achieved by bonding modems together in a single unit combined with powerful RF technology that automatically senses all the wireless networks in its proximity, and splits the video stream among those channels simultaneously. The combination of bandwidth aggregation and use of a powerful antenna means that it’s possible to effectively transmit from many dead spots and areas where a specific carrier may not have adequate coverage including in tunnels, crowded public spaces and underground metro stations. Its highly resilient profile enables live reportage from moving vehicles including helicopters. Latency can start from below one second, depending on network conditions and the resolution selected.
On the receive side, which can be on the other side of a country or the other side of the world, software installed on any internet-connected PC receives those streams and reconstructs the HD video into its original frames.
While users can apply their own data plans to cellular uplink systems, a service package that accommodates all the components needed for wireless transmission from data plan to field units and round the clock 24/7/365 support frees the customer from managing multiple data plans, eliminates the risk of roaming charges, and contains all the elements involved in wireless uplinking in one simple bill.
How much does it cost?
Cost for a cellular uplink system can vary greatly depending on geographic location, and the system you select. Some providers offer the opportunity to purchase the product, which leaves the end-user with the task of picking the specific air-card models, choosing and negotiating the plans per carrier and paying the cellular carriers directly. Others offer the option to lease the unit, which not only includes technical support, but also the responsibility of maximizing the best air-card model combination, managing the relationships with the cellular carriers and paying for the data usage. Many companies that offer lease packages operate similar to a cell-phone model as well in that when new hardware and technology is released, it is available to leasing customers without having to pay an incremental fee.
For point of reference, LiveU’s pricing ranges from $1250-$4500/month to lease, again, depending on specific model, usage and geographical location
New possibilities for live video
There are a wide variety of applications for cellular uplinking, opening up new possibilities for broadcasters because of the inherent speed of deployment and mobility. This technology introduces a new era for live video to TV and Web.
The portability of devices allows users to extend their use of (or introduce) live content: deploy more units, and gather more content in more places. Users of cellular technology can react instantly to news whenever it happens.
For live sports, multi-link cellular uplinking typically augments a standard satellite broadcast infrastructure. Camera operators can deliver on-the-spot video for quick updates, sideline and changing room interviews, roaming crowd shots and more.
Corporate enterprises can access satellite quality professional video capabilities to stream brand messages, sponsorship events, live training sessions, keynote speeches by executives, earnings briefings or even live web shows – all while viewers can engage in real time via social media.
A new concept in live video
For broadcasters, multi-link cellular uplink technology offers a shift in live video acquisition away from expensive satellite transmission, and provides freedom of movement for on-the-ground reporting. This portable technology is altering traditional sports production methods by allowing camera people to be nimble, flexible and mobile on the field and off.
For online media, the technology is the game changer that empowers virtually every content creator with live, professional-quality video streaming from anywhere, at lower-than-satellite prices.
Ongoing investments in R&D and improvements in cellular technology will continue to improve video and audio quality, resiliency and latency, from anywhere in the world, at any time.
Ronen Artman is VP of marketing for LiveU, a provider of cellular uplink systems. He previously served as head of product management and Israel general manager for kikin, VP of products and marketing at AOL and VP of products for the International Olympic Committee and the National Basketball Association.
charles spencer says:
January 12, 2012 at 11:40 am
We have 2 products of this type. While they have performed well in certain situations, they have not in others, including some which the author mentioned. At major events where there are crowds of people, so many of them are on their phones that even accumulating bandwidth from several carriers is difficult. We have had failures in a building on a college campus where bandwidth was readily available, because the building was close to RF-tight, so we could not access the bandwidth.
Summary: Think carefully about your intended uses. It may work great! Or, it may not.
Jason Crundwell says:
January 12, 2012 at 4:58 pm
There is another product that by all accounts works as advertised. Check out http://www.teradek.com and look at the Cube encoder and Bond modem bonder. Very cool and cheap.and no, I don’t work for them.
Lynn Lynch says:
January 13, 2012 at 11:04 am
Not ready for prime time…unfortunately. Fail in critical situations.
Raoul Cospen says:
January 13, 2012 at 11:33 am
My question: With six to seven 3G, WiFi and WiMax transmitters streaming HD video continuously and collectively from a backpack… will the person operating these units for extended news events undergo any harm?
Would you wear a microwave transmitter directly behind your skull?