IP Content Delivery Using Smart Blending Technology
The article investigates the challenges for live sports production in different locations or multiple (or moving) settings and the technology considerations behind such productions.
The transformation to cloud workflows in the broadcast and media industry is forcing a complete change in the underlying technology. The way that consumption habits are changing is a major driver, but the biggest factor is the sheer amount of content that has to be produced and delivered today: hundreds of broadcast channels and many thousands of streaming services are all seeking new material.
This surge in demand comes at a time when there is a fundamental shift in the core technology, towards software-defined architectures and IP connectivity. This shift presents the opportunity to host the technology in a conventional server room, in a data centre, or in the cloud.
The big challenge is in creating content that potential viewers will find engaging. In some genres, such as sport or live events, the interest lies in being able to watch an event as it is happening. No one wants to watch a live event an hour or two after it happens, when the result is already known. A feed delayed by even minutes risks the audience first knowing what has happened through social media, detracting from the broadcast impact and engagement.
It is clear, then, that there is a pressing need for reliable and immediate connectivity. Live feeds are key to the media service winning and retaining an audience.
Where there is a regular need for connectivity – at a major stadium for instance – then the investment in installing high capacity links (today that normally means fibre) can be justified. But for occasional events at less prestigious venues or events that take place over large areas like cycle racing, a fixed installation is impractical and uneconomical. To meet the demand for immediacy from any event, there is a real need for fast, reliable connectivity that can be quickly and easily deployed at a reasonable cost.
News has similar demands, in that you rarely know where a story is going to break, and the location is unlikely to be conveniently close to an access point. To be first to air with the story, you need the flexibility to connect from wherever the production team needs to be.
Technology has, again, come to our aid. We now have access to data connectivity – the Internet – via wired broadband, Wi-Fi, cellular data, and now accessible and affordable satellite links. What is needed is a smart way to access multiple carriers simultaneously, wherever you are.
Using multiple carriers at the same time avoids situations where a single carrier does not provide the required data throughput, low latency, and reliability to deliver a broadcast-quality video over IP. Dejero has developed and patented a means of sharing the video stream across multiple connections togive the required performance. We call this Smart Blending Technology.
This means that a number of connections, each with reasonable bandwidth and reliability, can be blended to improve both resilience and throughput, and used to stream high-quality, low latency video from virtually anywhere. This approach is flexible enough to blend a wide range of IP connections including cellular, Wi-Fi, wired broadband (DSL), and satellite.
The video stream sent over this connection could be encoded video coming from a single camera, for which there are backpack and camera-mounted encoder/transmitters, or it could come from rich production chain, with the SDI output of the production switcher going in to the encoder. High-quality 1080p 50/60 HD can be delivered in bitrates of five to 10Mb/s, which Smart Blending can easily maintain.
One important point to bear in mind is that individual networks may be under heavy demand. At a big sporting event, for example, many fans will be using their cell phones intensively to share their experiences. Smart blending can use carriers from multiple networks, thereby reducing the demand on an individual cellular network. That makes it more reliable for the professional user, as well as leaving bandwidth for individuals.
Such multi-carrier blending is dynamic, which gives it stability and security when the source of the video stream is moving: following a cycle road race, for example. This carrier diversity enabled by Smart Blending helps in congested conditions, as well as on the move. It means that, in many situations, live video can be reliably streamed using only cellular networks: this has become the “go to” approach for many broadcasters, completely replacing satellite and microwave transmission.
However, there are some environments, like large sporting venues or at big breaking news stories, where the high number of users on the cellular network causes congestion, making cellular-only connectivity challenging. Traditionally, dedicated Ku-band (12 to 14 GHz) satellite services have een used in these situations but this can be expensive and not practical for use on an ad hoc basis. Dejero has partnered with Intelsat to deploy CellSat, a service that blends shared Ku-band satellite with cellular data. The benefit is that, like cellular connectivity, you connect only when you need it, with CellSat delivering improved reliability at a significantly lower cost than using a dedicated Ku-band satellite link. By blending cellular and satellite connectivity, broadcasters have an added layer of reliability, with the satellite connectivity topping up the cellular network connections when they degrade.
CellSat uses a 1 metre, auto-acquire terminal and an IP satellite modem to deliver up to 3Mb/s uplink and a 1 Mb/s downlink. The use of an auto-acquire terminal means that it can typically be set-up and on the network in less than five minutes, without the need to book a slot. Unlike conventional SNG, you simply connect when you want and pay only for what you use.
A prominent use case for CellSat occurred in 2018, at the wedding in Windsor, UK, between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. Many of the world’s broadcasters wanted to put their own distinctive voice on the proceedings. Canada’s Global News secured a prime spot in the centre of Windsor for reporters and a camera, but there was no wired (broadband) connectivity and certainly no option of bringing in a conventional SNG van – the streets were far too congested. At the same time, 100,000 people were expected to turn up to catch a glimpse of the happy couple, and it was a certainty that everyone would want to use the cellular devices to share their experiences on social media.
During the main events there was very little cellular bandwidth available but using CellSat ensured a consistent throughput to deliver excellent HEVC HD picture quality. The transfer between cellular and satellite was seamless and fully automatic, without the need for manual intervention.
Delivering Low Latency
A key element of delivering live content for broadcasting applications is managing latency to ensure it is as low as possible while delivering high-quality video, possibly to multiple locations as the same time. Dejero uses a patented approach that accurately synchronizes the transmitter and receiver, ensuring the glass-to-glass latency (latency measured from the camera lens to the raw video output from the receiver that can be sub 1 second) by the user is realized, even under challenging network conditions. This novel approach is flexible enough to blend connections with widely varying latency characteristics (e.g. LTE at 30 ms and satellite at 100 ms as used in the Dejero CellSat solution) while minimizing the glass-toglass latency and ensuring smooth blending between multiple connections.
Dejero’s low latency approach is also deployed in our cloud-based offerings, Cloud Server and MultiPoint, where it can be used to enable low latency delivery of live, high-quality video to multiple, simultaneous end points (up to thousands) for OTT and related applications.
We are also working on deploying our Smart Blending Technology into general-purpose connectivity projects that over high-speed, provide reliable connectivity for a wide range of devices such as voice-over-IP, general purpose Internet connectivity, and third-party video encoders.
Sport There are a broad range of applications for instant connectivity in sports media. Many teams use live streaming to the web and social media platforms to boost fan engagement, for example. Others need to be mobile to understand what is happening to their athletes: Team Sky, 2018 Tour de France winners, used Dejero IP connectivity in their follow vehicles, for example.
A classic use case is horse racing in Victoria, Australia, which is covered by a single body, Thoroughbred Racing Productions. TRP covers more than 525 race
meetings a year, providing high-quality live video feeds to various broadcasters, in-house feeds at the course for hospitality areas and large screens, and most important a replay feed to the stewards to ensure fairness.
While the broadcast outputs and final production are handled from a studio base in Sydney, there was a need for instant feature packages and comments from experts at the various courses. This is accomplished using blended cellular delivery, from a compact mobile transmitter, that also supports Ku-band back-up for major race days.
Control of the link is via a web browser, which can be accessed by the user at the location or from the central production facility.
One particularly interesting application is that a crew may be sent to interview a trainer at his stables. The HDCAM footage can be quickly packaged in a laptop editor, then the finished story transmitted to the production center as the crew is driving back, taking advantage of cellular coverage on the move.
For the digital racing platform www.racing.com, TRP was asked to provide a news service from whichever courses are active on any particular day. TRP built a facility hooked into Racing Victoria’s IT network that could send IP video over the Internet to their production facility. It is a highly efficient, operationally simple and cost-effective way to send content from Melbourne to Sydney.
Another example is implemented at World Racing Group (WRG). The production teams at WRG, the premier sanctioning body for dirt track racing in North America, are no longer fully dependent on the local cellular towers in remote locations at peak times during an event. With CellSat, that intelligently blends cellular connectivity from multiple mobile network providers with Ku-band IP satellite connectivity from Intelsat, WRG‘s production team is now achieving its goal of streaming 100 % of its premier racing schedule, saving on resources, cost, and set-up times in the process.
They now have the bandwidth needed to transmit broadcast- quality video in real-time from virtually anywhere. CellSat blends the individual strengths of cellular and satellite networks that has enabled a sharp rise of itssocial media profile, while it has seen exponential growth in live fan engagement during races. Its live streaming has transformed as a result.
Before such time, the dirt track racing specialist was losing valuable viewer interest because event coverage from remote, congested locations and challenging venues just wasn’t feasible and the group was forced to leave many events out of their streaming schedule. They needed a connectivity boost.
At present there is a great deal of talk about 5G cellular connectivity, and media applications like this will see potential productivity boosts. When it is available, we expect 5G to offer significantly improved performance, especially where cellular networks become congested.
But LTE will be here for some considerable time, because of the time and costs associated with rolling out 5G, and the capital investment mobile networks have already made in LTE. In due course there will need to be reliable blending between 5G and LTE.
Indeed, when there is widespread 5G availability, network providers are unlikely to offer guaranteed coverage for demanding applications like live video streaming. So, even in an all-5G environment there will still be a need for network blending to gain security through carrier diversity.
Ku-band on-demand satellite connectivity will also remain a critical element for connectivity. Operators are putting the latest generation of high throughput satellites into service, ensuring access for all, from any location or environment. Using Smart Blending to blend these with terrestrial networks will open up even more opportunities for live content generation.