LiveU and Starlink: When IP meets satellite

Starlink and LiveU are creating a better live video production experience

You have probably heard of Starlink, the satellite-based internet bandwidth service provided by SpaceX. It is the first widely available “mega-constellation” network that utilizes miniature Low Earth Orbit (or LEO) satellites. While some large constellation networks were built before, none have garnered the popularity or adoption like Starlink has. Still, other companies do plan similar LEO networks. But Starlink is operational today and used globally by customers across many use cases.

What sets Starlink apart from other forms of internet bandwidth delivered over satellite is that due to the low orbit, mega-constellation network, bandwidth is higher (due to the many small satellites in the network) while latency is lower (this one due almost exclusively to the low earth orbit).  Let’s dig into those two statements starting with the idea that more satellites in the constellation results in higher throughput.  The principle here is much the same as micro-cells in a cellular network; having smaller areas of wireless connectivity allows for increased performance by not having a huge number of devices sharing the same frequencies in a larger cell. Next, that the low orbit lowers the latency of communication.  This is because latency in satellite connectivity is driven by that old pesky cosmic constant – the speed of light.

Another interesting aspect of Starlink is it is very ubiquitously available – service can be ordered from their website directly and terminals are relatively inexpensive.  Unlike some other satellite technologies that were industry specific, only available to specific users, and required much more expensive terminals to access. 

There are a few options when ordering the service including a choice between the standard terminal, a “high performance” terminal, as well as between standard service (which currently does include a limit on “prioritized data”, though that limit is high at one terabyte a month) and business class service (which does not have a similar limit).  Most of the plans are geographically locked, which allows Starlink to do network planning and monitoring by controlling how many devices will be in any one cell of the network.  However, there are now “RV” plans which can be used anywhere Starlink provides service, without having to switch your chosen geographic region, and can even be used on vehicles while in-motion (though Starlink recommends a specific terminal, the equivalent of a vehicle mount version of the “high performance” terminal in order to use this feature).

How Are Users Leveraging Starlink With LiveU?

LiveU users are no strangers to plugging their LU300S or LU800 portable field units into a satellite terminal. For years, our clients have used IP-based Ka, Ku, and C-Band networks. They’ve even used Broadband Global Area Networks, or BGAN, which provided very limited uplink and downlink, but are similarly available all over the world and not just in specific coverage zones.

Some of the first video transmissions using LiveU transmitters and Starlink were in Ukraine to report on the Russian conflict.  A New York-based broadcaster used Starlink terminals, in conjunction with cellular bandwidth powered by LiveU, in Uvalde, Texas when reporting on the return to school after the May 2022 mass shooting. This combination of IP and satellite bandwidth was used by LiveU customers in London to cover Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral. 

Other users have used Starlink on the receive side (instead of transmit) in order to locate a LiveU LU2000 or LU4000 receiver around the world, such as the production companies Paragon Live and MMS360.  RTÉ One in Ireland used Starlink combined with a private 5G network to transmit a weather report from a remote location with no other available connectivity. 

The use cases are varied and extensive, including LiveU customers using Starlink alone, LiveU to bond two Starlink terminals, bonding Starlink with cellular networks, and bonding Starlink with forms of connectivity like WiFi or a local venue LAN.  Users have also used Starlink as bandwidth to remotely locate receivers such as the LU2000 and LU4000.

Read the full white paper to learn about the overall performance and best practices for leveraging LiveU and Starlink for your next live production.