January 10th, 2019
The Broadcast Bridge
By Ronan Poullaouec
As broadcasters aim to deliver superior-quality video content for live news and event coverage, data costs are spiraling out of control. Yet, technological advancements have been made that significantly reduce the bitrates typically associated with broadcasting high-quality video in real time over bonded cellular and the public internet. This article will explain how live HD interviews and events can be streamed, stored, and recorded content forwarded, even in the midst of unpredictable and unmanaged network conditions using bonded cellular technology. The benefits of a bonded cellular approach will be discussed, including lowering cellular data consumption without compromising on video quality.
Why Bonded Cellular?
A major challenge that every broadcaster, news agency, and video professional faces is the cost of live broadcasts. Nowadays, consumers want to watch everything live, as it happens, whether it’s breaking news, sports, or other events. Yet, live broadcast production is expensive.
Over the last several years, bonded cellular technology has emerged as an efficient and opex-friendly solution. By bonding together cellular networks, broadcasters can dramatically reduce the cost of live video distribution. Bonded cellular can either be used in place of traditional distribution or in collaboration with satellite, ENG or mobile production trucks.
A key advantage of bonded cellular systems is that they are lightweight, portable and mobile, making them easier to deploy in the field for broadcasters and video professionals compared with traditional satellite links, which take several hours to set up. With bonded cellular, broadcasters simply need to connect a modem. They then have the power to manage live video transmissions from virtually anywhere in the world.
In most applications, the talent can go out alone, with a camera, tripod, and the cellular backpack. It’s very easy to initiate a connection. If the talent has any issues, they can simply let master control take over and operate the link remotely. There’s no need to send a two- or three-man crew, or an engineer.
Managing Bandwidth and Video Quality With Bonded Cellular Equipment
A major benefit of bonded cellular technology is that it can be used to achieve the required amount of bandwidth needed, and sometimes even reduce bitrates. Using cellular equipment, broadcasters can add and combine the different capacities of multiple, unmanaged IP links.
The beautiful thing about bonded cellular is if a broadcaster only gets 300 or 500 Kb/s per modem, aggregated over eight modems that are two, three, and four Mb/s. Broadcasters can often get up to 15 Mb/s back to master control with as little as sub-second latency.
As far as reducing the bitrates for high-quality broadcast video via bonded cellular and the public internet, the easiest way is via encoding. Choosing an encoder that supports the HEVC codec is optimal, as it offers a 50 percent bandwidth savings compared with H.264 with the same video quality.
Most of the bonded cellular systems have an adaptive bitrate encoder that adjusts the video bit rate according to the available bitrate on the cellular networks. A second encoder can be used to record high-quality, constant bit-rate video for the record, store, and forward functions.
With bonded cellular technology, broadcasters can easily correct lost packets without having to send them back to the receiver using forward error correction (FEC). In severe network situations, bonded cellular equipment will rely on Automatic Repeat reQuest (ARQ) for lost packets not recovered by FEC.
Primary Applications for Bonded Cellular
One of the primary use cases for bonded cellular in the broadcast environment was as a backup to the primary feed. Bonded cellular equipment can be added to a remote production vehicle to provide broadcasters with a diverse range of distribution paths. In fact, some of today’s advanced contribution solutions today can be used to deliver live and recorded video over a variety of bonded unmanaged IP networks, such as cellular, Wi-Fi, satellite or public internet.
Cellular networks have improved a lot over the years, with all of the 4G and 5G advancements. There is better coverage today, so broadcasters can have confidence using bonded cellular systems to deliver high-quality live sports coverage. Bonded cellular rigs are increasingly being used for live sports, such as high school football. Let’s say a broadcaster is using Ka-band satellite and wants to supplement it with cellular connectivity. External antennas can be placed on the roof of the truck to enable live, auto record, store, and forward capabilities of bonded cellular at a fraction of the costs of satellite.
Capturing the different angles of a live sports event, from a vehicle, motorbike, helicopter or golf cart, is also possible with bonded cellular systems since the equipment is so small and portable. This type of arrangement was recently used at the French Golf Open.
Another instance where using bonded cellular systems makes sense is in situations where it’s not easy to deploy a car or truck, or where bandwidth is an issue. For example, during the recent presidential election in France, there were hundreds of journalists in the field wanting to deliver live election coverage. With bonded cellular technology, they could achieve the bandwidth necessary to deliver results in real-time, from multiple districts, without a satellite truck.
For live coverage of a natural disaster, using a bonded cellular system may be the only option. Let’s say a hurricane hits. There is likely to be a lot of flooding and no electricity. A reporter may need to wade through a few feet of water to do an interview — something a satellite truck can’t do. There’s probably minimal to no cellular signal. In this case, the journalist will use a high-gain antenna on a pole, held by a crew member. Using a backpack, all of the camera and cellular bonded equipment can be carried above the water.
Bonded cellular systems provide broadcasters and other video professionals with a reliable, affordable, and bandwidth-efficient solution for delivering superior-quality video content for live news and event coverage. With cellular technology, video professionals have the flexibility to
stream video, in real-time, from anywhere in the world. By choosing a system that supports a wide range of networks, including 3G/4G cellular/wireless, Wi-Fi, Ethernet, and satellite, broadcasters can be prepared for any live breaking news or sports scenario.