By: Baruch Altman, AVP Technologies and Projects, LiveU and Chair, 5G-IA Trials & Pilots Working Group International Stream
There’s been a huge amount of talk about 5G for several years now and we’ve seen – and are seeing – numerous trials and deployments around the world. This opens up exciting new possibilities for broadcast, sports and live productions more widely. A recent Global Mobile Suppliers Association report highlighted that by mid-March 2021, 428 operators in 132 countries/territories were investing in 5G.
To maximize the possibilities for our customers, we’ve been doing a lot of work behind the scenes to understand and leverage the full range of possibilities facilitated by 5G and how it will disrupt the market. This gives us powerful insights about the vital role IP-bonding will play and also provides us with the opportunity to have a voice in ongoing 5G developments.
What’s the reality for the media and entertainment sector, and more, specifically, IP-bonding solutions and how is LiveU helping to shape the 5G future for our customers?
LiveU has been extensively engaged in the ongoing development and deployment of 5G around the world for over four years now. We’ve carried out successful commercial trials with leading cellular providers, including AT&T, T-Mobile, NTT Docomo, Vodafone with Sky Italia and Korea Telecom (KT). We’ve also worked with Sky Deutschland/Telefonica on a test using our LU-Smart smartphone technology to stream a handball match and also a second trial with a 2. Bundesliga match using the Vodafone network for next-gen sports production, more of which shortly. These multiple tests and deployments confirmed the effectiveness of LiveU Reliable Transport (LRT™) technology in combination with 5G under real-life conditions, drawing on the insights gained by LiveU in pan-European 5G research projects.
This year also saw us take part in a test with German technical services provider Media Broadcast, using an LU800, with the unit transmitting the signal to Media Broadcast’s campus in Nauen. “Together with LiveU, with this use case we are offering the industry a tangible example of where the journey with 5G in the news and events area could lead: easy-to-implement, flexible TV productions of the best quality and maximum security,” said Daniel Wolbers, Head of 5G Product Development at Media Broadcast.
We’ve been actively involved with the EU for several years and we announced increased participation last year, collaborating with leading European partners on 5G Infrastructure Public Private Partnership (PPP) projects, testing and validating content contribution and media production use cases*. The projects’ goals are to provide the broadcast community and other verticals with insights into 5G performance in real-world scenarios. The projects are funded by Horizon 2020, the biggest EU Research and Innovation program and sees us working with the EBU, BBC, Nokia, Ericsson, Samsung, Orange, Telenor, Telefonica, IBM and more.
For example, LiveU took part in a first-of-its-kind 5G-TOURS project test with RAI and TIM, demonstrating a multi-site musical concert called “Itinerant Orchestra”. As 5G-TOURS said, “the event is a concert performed by an orchestra with some musicians located in the main concert hall and some other itinerant musicians walking in the streets while approaching the concert hall. Each itinerant musician is followed by a cameraman shooting their performance and providing cues to stay synchronized with the main orchestra performance.” TIM provided the 5G network and RAI produced the whole event.
In 5G-Solutions we lead the media Leaving Lab and experiment with LU800 transmission over Stand-Alone (SA) 5G networks under various scenarios, using service orchestration, slices and QoS allocation. In 5G-RECORDS we focus on remote production over 5G, multi-cam synch using the LU800, and our SMPTE2110 server on the studio premises. In COPA EUROPE we lead “glass-to-glass” eGames/eSports remote production over 5G, affiliate transactions of the live video and other enhanced capabilities.
It’s been very important and valuable for us to have a voice at this level. Whatever develops with cellular networks, there’ll always be a strong need for LiveU multi-link adaptive video delivery for professional, stable, resilient video contribution and delivery. Remote production is further enhanced with our new two-way IP data delivery in parallel with real time uplink video transmission.
As a result of the enhanced commercial and research exposure, we see, and believe strongly, in several main media and entertainment use cases (and variations upon them) benefiting from 5G using multi-camera remote production capabilities.
We also took part in a multi-party 5G demonstration around the IBC timeframe last year. It took place as part of IBC Showcase 2020 and was designed to show proof-of-concept remote broadcast production. Broadcasters who participated included the BBC and ViacomCBS, who championed it, TV2 Denmark and others as well as network operators EE and VodafoneZiggo. The demonstration involved broadcasting live from RAI Amsterdam into ViacomCBS’ London studio with two camera feeds via LiveU’s new, multi-camera LU800.
While advanced deployments of 5G network provide major benefits over existing connectivity and exciting opportunities for the industry, it’s clear bandwidth will vary from one 5G network and site to another and we’ve seen this across the work we’ve done. Therefore, on any 5G network including the most advanced, yet currently very scarce, commercial Stand-Alone (SA) deployments and even SA NPN (Non-Public-Network, i.e. private ones), interfering objects, buildings etc. can cause a sudden connection loss or significant bandwidth reduction. Similarly, other inherent cellular-generic issues such as distance from cell antenna, narrow backhauls, preference to downlink in resource allocations, partial coverage including in buildings, urban areas and out-of-city-center areas etc., all make IP-bonding essential because of its multi-link capabilities, rather than relying on the vagaries of a single network. To maximize 5G, including the use of multi-camera and 4K, IP-bonding is essential.
One of the conversations that we’ve had recently with customers directly and on panel sessions that has really resonated is this isn’t only about further improved video and audio capabilities, alongside 4K, important as these are. When we explain how much work the units do internally to make 3G, and even 4G signals reliable, not only with total throughput, but also end-to-end latency and maintaining premium video quality, the benefits of 5G with IP-bonding become even clearer.
5G makes this easier with its greater potential uplink throughput. This is a boon for LiveU customers because it means the additionally available bandwidth may be allocated, reliably, to other important capabilities. It’s not only about transporting premium quality video and audio; it’s about the extra IP data that we’ve also been focusing on over recent years: comms, video return, robotic camera control, CCU control – these are all features that 5G bandwidth allows our designated algorithms to provide in a reliable manner to our customers for their enhanced remote production use cases, which in turn makes sending OB vans and crews unnecessary.
LiveU deterministic latency is the ability of our algorithms to accurately predict well ahead what the latency will be. On a wired network you can be fairly accurate how long a packet will take to arrive and it rarely changes as the communication goes on. On a wireless network, that latency can swing wildly and that variation – jitter – is problematic. Jitter is bad for video and audio and bad for other things too, of course, like robotic camera control. Advanced 5G deployments such as with SA and slices address the unpredictability of wireless networks in a better way. This brings a more deterministic latency. This is a major benefit that our technologies can take advantage of, while having the IP bonding algorithms to back up the network and provide resiliency as, at the end of the day, wireless is wireless. We’ve seen in static tests over empty networks that fluctuations in delay occur even in that circumstance. Resiliency is essential when that happens, and our multi-link bonding provides just that.
5G is the first carrier technology that’s been launched since the advent of software defined networks (SDNs). Network slicing is one of the key potential benefits of 5G Stand-Alone networks providing more deterministic bandwidth and latency per link, when and where these will be deployed. Network operators can then segment their network resources to provide for specific use cases according to their requirements. This is particularly important in crowded stadiums, for example. While in such locations Non-Public-Networks (NPN) may be used, which more easily commercially support this requirement, it’s unclear how widely these will be deployed from an economic standpoint in large city-wide Public Networks or nation-wide deployments. Because of our tests in the commercial and European research projects, we make sure that our hardware and algorithms support both types of networks, so that sports production can best utilize venues’ NPNs or slice-benefiting locations, while daily 5G usage in less specialized configurations is also fully optimized.
5G spectrum is a topic worthy of a blog post all by itself! But for now, it’s worth noting that there are several spectrum ranges that are typically globally used for 5G. The main one is called “sub 6GHz” and is usually between 3.7GHz and 6GHz. In many countries this spectrum is auctioned in parts – broken down into different “bands” – to 5G operators and private network operators. The second is known is “mmWave” and is usually above 25GHz and in the future even way above that (60GHz area). This spectrum is currently not widely used, except by USA operators for FW (Fixed Wireless). The third is also essentially unique to the US and is referred to as CBRS (at 3.5GHz). This is allocated to various “private and locale/sporadic operators” including Google, SAS, Sony and others. Additionally, attempts are being made to clear “expensive” and rare spectrum such as 700 MHz. It’s complicated, we know! What customers should take from this is that it’s essential to work with a provider that can handle all of these spectrum ranges, globally, in an optimal way. Of course, LiveU does, working with the right cellular modules and internal design to support this complex scenario.
5G provides huge opportunities for sports broadcasting, and, in particular, remote production, which will take advantage of the higher quality and super low latency of 5G networks. We’ve all seen the rise of remote production – and remote working more widely – over recent years, with adoption accelerated by the pandemic. In late 2020, LiveU played a central role in an important and successful 5G test with pay-TV operator Sky Deutschland and Vodafone, trialing wireless 5G transmissions during a 2. Bundesliga match with multiple cameras to demonstrate the powerful possibilities for engaging live sports coverage provided by this integrated workflow. An LU800 production-level field unit and two LU-Smart-equipped smartphones were used. The test also highlighted 5G network slicing capabilities, providing guaranteed bandwidth.
Alessandro Reitano SVP Sports Production, Sky Deutschland, said, “This was an important test for us in terms of 5G, IP-bonding and network slicing capabilities and what this can achieve for premium level sports broadcasting. LiveU’s technology – with which we are already familiar – was key to the trial, showing how the latest wireless capabilities dovetail with these new network capabilities, allowing truly innovative workflows, with far greater camera position flexibility and very fast time to air. It means that we can now really begin to think differently and realize the full possibilities these technologies allow.”
There are a multitude of other possibilities including live sports enriched with augmented reality and also across eSports. This is not to dismiss news because newsgathering will also benefit from the additional bandwidth and comms capabilities.
Meanwhile in the US, Mike Davies, FOX Sports Senior Vice President of Technical and Field Operations, said, “5G is a technology that could drive the savings of millions of dollars over the course of a production year in terms of fiber deployment and backhaul transmission, after it is fully deployed over multiple types of sports broadcasts.”
5G provides a whole new world of possibilities and we are working across our full product range to allow our customers to maximize the opportunities. The launch of our native 5G, multi-camera LU800 last year, is a key example and is a game-changer for the industry, designed to allow our customers to take full advantage. The unit offers up to eight 5G dual SIM modems, supported by high efficiency internal antennas. It’s fully optimized for 5G operation, including its use of LiveU Reliable Transport (LRT™) as well as being designed to handle things like the increased cooling requirements for optimal 5G use. We also support Non-Public Networks (which may well be deployed in venues), which is vital. Then there’s the understanding we’ve developed across remote production with a multitude of customer examples, with 5G set to increase remote production possibilities and change the way that productions can be achieved. 5G, in combination with IP-bonding, offers a very exciting future and we’re, once again, leading the market.