5G Tests Aim to Disrupt the Economics of On-Location TV Production

Jeff Baumgartner
5/14/2019

Packed with more capacity and super-low latencies, 5G is aiming to transform mobility, disrupt in-home broadband service providers and pave the way for wirelessly automated factories and vehicles. AT&T and a company called LiveU also believe that 5G is poised to upend the technical capabilities and economics of on-location TV broadcasts.

Pursuing a path that could take those TV broadcasts well beyond the limits of today's LTE technology, AT&T and LiveU are collaborating on 5G-powered tests of spot news and sporting event coverage. That coverage can be captured and delivered using LiveU's portable video production backpacks that are equipped with the requisite encoding gear and 5G modems and transmitters.

The current versions of LiveU's portable video production backpacks are equipped with LTE, satellite and WiFi connectivity capabilities. They're used to capture video footage from on-location breaking news and sporting events and then deliver that video back to the TV news organization, where the video can be decoded and shown on TV.

LiveU will add 5G capabilities to its portable video production backpacks for an upcoming trial with AT&T.
LiveU will add 5G capabilities to its portable video production backpacks for an upcoming trial with AT&T.

Avi Cohen, LiveU's COO and co-founder, estimates that the company's portable production packs save about 70% of the costs that would be required to use a production truck and on-site editing bays.

But LTE, as a best-effort service, isn't always good enough -- it's vulnerable to issues like network congestion, packet loss and unexpected latency that can't be overcome with error-correction techniques alone. Video coverage of breaking news and live sporting events simply need to connect to a more reliable and capable mobile networks, Cohen said.

LiveU and AT&T believe that 5G can fill the gap with its lower latencies, beefier data capacities and network-slicing techniques that can support the kind of managed data service that LTE can't deliver.

"5G ultimately has the potential to help transform behind-the-scenes video operations, expand video broadcast capabilities and deliver the next-generation of entertainment options," Shiraz Hasan, VP of global and industry solutions channel marketing at AT&T, said. "5G can really help reduce broadcast production costs and improve how an event is covered…and help kickstart new innovations."

Cohen and LiveU are also hopeful that 5G, along with the use of the bandwidth-efficient H.265/HEVC video codec, will enable the company to operate in venues that are typically subjected to LTE network congestion. In additon, they hope that 5G will enable them to expand on the baseline capabilities of their legacy platform.

By tapping into the power of the 5G network, Cohen says LiveU should be able to support multiple cameras off a single backpack and have access to enough bandwidth to stream video in the pixel-packed 4K format or support bandwidth-heavy and latency-sensitive virtual reality video applications.

But the idea is still in its early days. LiveU has been accepted into AT&T's Foundry program, and has sent some units over to the Foundry facility in Dallas to be outfitted with 5G technology and embedded into LiveU's platform.

"We are finalizing the test plan," Cohen said.

LiveU, which has been a long-time LTE partner of AT&T and currently provides its service in more than 130 countries, initially will use an off-the-shelf modem for the 5G trials. But plans call for the development of a specialized 5G modem that LiveU can embed into its backpack units.

The full scope and length of the trial hasn't been determined, but the goal is to allow the Foundry engineers to determine some initial speed, latency and other types of technology performance benchmarks.

"We feel that this will be a trial that will help set the mark on the possibilities," Hasan said. "We just don't know what's possible yet."

— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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