Jun 30, 2023

5G and IP-bonding: bringing the future together

There’s no doubt that 5G has moved the bar in terms of what’s possible using IP-bonding and has had a very positive effect on transmission from live events, not least because of the increase in bandwidth. We have seen this in both customer experiences and in the trials in which we have been involved. In terms of deployments, the pandemic might have slowed the rollout of 5G networks. 5G deployment depends mostly on the cost combined with ROI, spectrum availability, and special cases like private networks in big stadiums. But 5G is happening and video contribution has started using it.

It started off in specific cities, with 5G radio using existing 4G Core (Non-Stand Alone – NSA), where QoS cannot be guaranteed. Recently, and more so in the future, 5G Stand Alone, having its own 5G Core deployed (at a significant cost and complexity for operators), will prevail. Coverage areas will expand, and coverage density will also increase. More bandwidth means higher video quality, and in some cases, higher reliability with the ability to support more devices in the same location (e.g. for breaking news from crowded places). To transmit live from really crowded areas, such as when capturing footage of major national events, or at a Tier 1 sports venue with several tens of thousands of spectators all competing for connectivity, 5G private networks may be deployed to provide the bandwidth needed.

As when using any wireless network transmission, reliability is still an issue and, of course, 5G is still wireless. So bonding, using multiple cellular links together, is still the right way to go for reliable high quality video transmission. How do we know this? Through multiple, in-depth trials conducted, partnering with broadcasters and other technology suppliers, and working on multiple projects to understand the real-world possibilities and the powerful relationship between IP-bonding and 5G.

One of the most talked about possibilities with 5G is network slicing. In essence, this is the ability to provide as high performance as possible, or QoS, to authorized users, end-to-end within the cellular radio and Core network with users having a higher probability of receiving the needed QoS for better signal stability on location.

LiveU has been testing 5G with slices for some time now. Here are a few examples from controlled tests. In 2022, we tested how 5G slices can serve global media remote production. This was carried out with Ericsson and RAI as part of the work the three companies have been doing in the EU 5G-RECORDS project (5G-RECORDS Horizon 2020 grant number 957102), designed to develop, integrate, validate and demonstrate specific 5G components in end-to-end 5G infrastructures for professional AV media content production. You can read the details here.

This was a very important, comprehensive set of tests of network slicing scenarios, providing clearly measurable results. The trial highlighted the key role LiveU’s IP bonding will play when it comes to resilient professional production in real-world conditions, including where and when dedicated slices for upload (UL) will be deployed.

Earlier this year, in a first of its kind demonstration, this was taken a step further with leading 5G partners joining forces to trial live video using single and bonded modems transmitted over 5G slices that were automatically and dynamically set-up according to real-time analysis. This involved LiveU, L.M. Ericsson, Nokia, and the University of Patras (UoP), under the Horizon Europe 5G-Solution project (grant # 856691).

The questions the trial set out to answer was how these slices can be allocated and managed and how the 5G cellular operator provides the QoS level it guarantees to multiple broadcasters over a specific slice in a certain location.

One of the technical obstacles to the wide deployment of slices is the static/fixed allocation of resources (spectrum, QoS within the network borders), and dynamic, per-demand management of slice allocation. This has not been automated yet. Hence the theoretical 5G benefits for remote production at scale have up to now not been fully realised.

In this trial, transmitting over 5G slices that were automatically set-up according to real-time analysis was achieved using several LiveU multi-cam LU800 field units and a network management process called Zero-Touch-Automation (ZTA). Each unit transmitted up to four independent camera feeds simultaneously by bonding multiple modems, networks or slices. One of these was a slice specially configured for broadcasters’ uplink video contribution. The ZTA mechanism dynamically allocated in real-time 5G slices according to LiveU units’ transmission needs and the network overall load.

The ZTA algorithm specially designed by Ericsson, identified in real-time changes in the network performance resulting from the increased upload demand. It then notified the network management orchestrator (CDSO, by Nokia), which drove the reconfiguration of the network (deployed by UoP) by setting-up a special upload-oriented slice. Modems in the LiveU units automatically identified the newly available special slice, started using it, and LiveU bonding algorithms began transmitting live video packets using this dedicated slice. Bonding this slice with the “best-effort” slices or commercial networks allowed each of the LU800s to transmit four video streams concurrently and at a high quality, with stable bandwidth and latency. Bonding special slices, in real-time, with other modems, networks and bandwidths was instrumental in maintaining video continuity and overall QoS throughout and to reduce the spectrum needed from the new slice.

This trial further demonstrated that even with adaptive ZTA of dedicated “guaranteed performance” slice allocation, bonding transparently and agnostically multiple modems, networks and slices is needed so broadcasters can enjoy the highest level of video quality and reliability in these congested areas, under changing conditions and over any network configuration.

Regardless of the future possibilities highlighted above, the number of 5G use cases grows again, with sports and high-profile crowded news/one-off events leading the way. Customers are enjoying the benefits, using efficient IP-bonding with 5G with our compact form factor LU300S streaming encoders and our multi-camera live production LU800, rather than expensive and cumbersome satellite or fibre transmission. Using bonding and 5G, coupled with cloud-production tools and workflows, results in additional cost reduction as fewer staff and equipment need to be on-site and remote production (REMI) becomes a real option. It must be noted that these savings are not only regarding cost but also reducing the environmental impact, so we’re very happy to provide our customers with an end-to-end 5G-to-cloud production option.

Further, audio over 5G and return video (from production back to the camera person or reporter on-site), as our solutions allow, mean tighter, more secure and more reliable communication between the teams as well as virtual audio-rooms facilitating easy comms between multiple teams and their director/producer etc. 5G will play a powerful role in enhancing how we produce content but we’re all still on this journey and have not yet reached our destination.

First published in TVB Europe