4G/5G Backpacks, Unlimited Live Broadcasting
By Carlos Medina, Audiovisual Technology Expert and Advisor
Every audiovisual content provider must be very aware of the possibility of broadcasting live to as meet the demands from the audience or end users. In the field of broadcast television, on Internet channels and/or on social media, the “live” technique is increasingly common, allowing immediacy, on-site presence and a customization of whoever is willing to tell a story; the here and now of any event: news, sports, conferences, corporate, presentations, web tutorials, live streaming outdoors, lifestreaming, IRL (In Real Life), live podcasts, board games (TTG), events, concerts and much more.
Live broadcasting techniques vary, but they all have the same purpose: conveying a video/audio signal from one place to another through transport and dissemination by cable (fiber optic), by satellite systems (C-band, Ka-band and Ku-band), via terrestrial microwave links or via the Internet (FTP/Streaming), thus making real-time content possible.
The audiovisual signal transmitted is a broadcast master signal either from a multi-camera production or from the central control of a TV station or from a single-camera production. That is to say, directly the signal from an autonomous video camera that is sent to a production control where this camera can be “tapped” live, this obtaining a live connection.
Sometimes, setup is complex and expensive. When using a Mobile Production Unit (MPU) together with a Mobile Broadcast Unit (MBU). But the new audiovisual challenges have changed everything. The development of technology in the digital encoding process and in computing, progress seen in mobile communications (3G/4G/LTE/5G) and tight budgets have given way to broadcast or link backpacks, or as known in professional audiovisual slang, simply ‘the backpack’.
In 2006, LiveU was the inventor of ‘the backpack’ system itself. This company has a long history in the field of broadcasting high-quality live video from anywhere in the world. With over 3,000 customers in more than 130 countries, LiveU’s technology is the solution of choice for global broadcasters; news, sports and entertainment agencies; live video streaming to TVs; mobile devices, online and social media.
LiveU has received the Frost & Sullivan 2021 North American New Product Innovation Award for its LU800 unit and won the 71st Annual Technology and Engineering Emmy Award as recognition for its innovation and achievements in video on cell Internet protocol technology (VoCIP).
Broadcast or link backpacks are not a mere transport bag padded to protect the equipment from impacts, but a broadcast solution that allows to make the most of the capacity available in mobile phone networks. A new technological advance that allows, from anywhere with mobile coverage, to send a video and audio signal without the need for satellite support, as well as the possibility of carrying out live and FTP broadcasts in a nearly instantaneous fashion.
The origin of these backpacks comes from the very essence of being at the forefront of the events taking place around us. Get the news the first and on an exclusivity basis. As far back as the 80s arose the need to be with the video cameras at the ‘the news spot’. Specifically, in 1985 manufacturer Sony launched a type of camera known as camcorder on the market.
These camcorders allowed images to be captured and stored on a 1/2” tape in a recording format known as BETACAM. The good thing about this type and camera system was that the equipment was free from any ties and allowed the camera operator to enjoy great mobility, both when operating the equipment and in news coverage. It was so important, this saw the birth of a new denomination and a new professional profile, such as the ENG (Electronic News Gathering / Electronic reporting) camera operator. A camera operator specialized in capturing and recording outdoors independently.
Therefore, the television environment was reaching one of its great communication objectives: being at any place of interest and getting recordings of events or news. The only thing missing was a lightweight solution for making ‘a live broadcast” with the very camera operator. And that is what a broadcast or link backpack offers us: getting to the news, turning on the equipment and broadcasting live.
It is here fitting to point out that they have not squeezed out other broadcasting means such as, for example, the combination of an ENG together with a DSNG (Digital Satellite News Gathering) vehicle. Simply, backpacks have opened the possibility of live broadcasting to more communication agents; and they have even become ancillary means to the more traditional fiber or satellite broadcasts, reaching places that require greater technical complexity, always in real time.
We have moved from DSNG and DENG to DMNG (Digital Mobile News Gathering) with the appearance of mobile networks, which allow live broadcasting in HD quality without the need for a mobile unit, that is, directly from the camera to broadcast studios.
A camera-studio broadcast is made possible through three alternative solutions. First, the video camera itself has the built-in technology required to generate a WiFi network; second, the camera has an interface or slot to “tap” a USB WiFi dongle, a plug-and-play device that allows access to the Internet; and third, there is a connection between the camera and the broadcast or link backpack with a physical, wired connection between both pieces of equipment.
These backpacks will allow making a direct contribution through the technical means that are within their own bodies and under the operation of a single person. The term ‘backpack’ is perfectly appropriate because it is exactly what the camera operator wears on his back and where the necessary equipment for such live broadcasts is housed.
The main elements that make up a backpack are: a video/audio encoder, modems with their corresponding antennas and universally compatible SIM slots so that SIM cards from any provider or telecommunications company are supported. We are making reference referring to 3G technology at its inception, 4G+ or LTE (Long Term Evolution) nowadays and 5G in the near future. Each of those figures and acronyms corresponds to the abbreviation for the generation in the latest progress made in mobile communication technology.
The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) created a committee to lay down the specifications. This committee is the IMT-Advanced and it sets forth the necessary requirements for a standard to be considered within the 4G, 4G+ or LTE and 5G generations.
The main differences between 4G, 4G+ or LTE, and 5G correspond to parameters such as data transfer speed (Mbps), latency (milliseconds) or coverage in the territory. But also, an increased bandwidth for data and energy consumption.
Implementation of 5G technology -foreseen between 2020 and 2030 in Europe- will entail a definite advance in the wider mobile broadband, with a highly reliable communication system providing coverage close to 100% and low latencies (between 1 and 2 milliseconds). Thanks to this network, data transfer speeds of up to 20 Gbps will be achieved. It will allow more than a million connected devices per kilometer and an energy savings of almost 90%.
Due to the great technological impact that the 5G network is expected to cause, the Spanish Ministry of Economic Affairs and Digital Transformation designed the National 5G Plan that defines the lines of action to develop this technology from 2018 up to 2020.
After the approval of this Plan, this ministry tendered the first licenses to use the 3.6 – 3.8 Gigahertz (GHz) frequency band, a priority for the deployment of the 5G network.
Understanding the development of the generations of mobile telephony is essential in order to assess the benefits of a broadcast or link backpack. We should not forget that inside the backpack there must be a battery power system and the necessary wiring for correct operation.
The backpack allows working as an FTP (File Transfer Protocol) system, a network protocol for transferring files between systems connected to a TCP (Transmission Control Protocol) network, based on a client-server architecture. That is, we can record a video file on camera and then send it to a receiving server.
And this offers us a widely used system called Store-and-Forward that is not live. It is the equivalent to a false direct. It consists of the possibility of making the recording on the camera and in sending the video continuously in parallel. In about 3 or 4 minutes the material is already available in the studio or production control room where the live broadcast is being produced.
There are several manufacturers of broadcast/link backpacks, but they all have a few features in common that are worth discovering:
– A/V encoding: Refers to the codecs supported by the device, such as HEVC/AVC (H265 / H264); Audio: AAC-HE/LC.
– VIDEO/DATA interfaces: SD, HD, 3G-SDI (BNC), 12G-SDI (BNC) HDMI 2.0, HDMI 1.4, USB 2.0, RJ-45 Ethernet, Micro SD Card Slot, Audio Jack (in+out).
– Video resolutions: 1080p50/60/25/30/24, 1080i50/60, 720p50/ 60/25/30/24, PAL, NTSC as well as the most up-to-date, ready for UHD and 4K content.
– Supported technologies: 3G, 4G LTE, 5G, HSPA+, HSUPA, HSDPA, UMTS, CDMA EVDO Rev 0/A/B, Mobile WiMAX, and external WiFi 802.11 a, b, g & n support. IP Satellite (KA/BGAN).
– Measurements and weight: Compact in size and a weight of around 1.5 kg including battery.
– Temperature: -5°C to +45°C.
One of the most interesting features that some 4G/5G backpacks have is the possibility of broadcasting HD video through bonding or aggregation of networks, including 3G/4G/LTE, WiFi, BGAN, Ethernet and fiber.
Bonding (short for Bandwidth ON Demand INteroperability Group) is the name given to a method for joining or aggregating multiple physical links to form a single logical link. Applied to transmission of images, it offers the possibility of using several channels for transmission of content between two points in order to improve the reliability of the link, its quality or both. Broadcast of HD signals and, to a greater extent, UHD signals, demand bandwidths such that they allow the transfer of large amounts of data. Outdoors, where mobile telephony is typically used to send information, the possibility of joining/aggregating networks notably improves the transmission result.
In order to establish a stable transmission, backpacks feature Adaptive Bit Rate (ABR), Constant Bitrate (CBR), Variable Bitrate (VBR) and Automatic Forwarding Error Correction (FEC) options. LiveU has patented its own LiveU Reliable Transport (LRT™), algorithms -reliable transport protocol.
Finally, any 4G/5G backpack that is to be favored by camera operators must be exceptional as to ergonomics in order avoid fatigue, as well as shock and water resistant and must have a quiet and efficient cooling system such as, for instance, active cooling.
The combination of these features must offer optimal results for live broadcast, that is, what bitrate is supported (for example, up to 30Mbps); latency (the time it takes for a packet to be transmitted over a network, and the lower the better the transmission) and an effective boot-up system (less than 20 seconds).
The most relevant manufacturers and developers of broadcast backpacks are the aforementioned LiveU with its LU800e, LU600 5G HEVC and LU300 5G HEVC models or the LiveU Solo, which we cannot fail to mention. The latter model has a video encoder that offers easy, one-touch wireless live streaming straight from the camera to popular online platforms like Facebook Live, YouTube, and Twitch. It also features LiveU Xtender, an integrated antenna solution that increases network reception, providing additional strength for live video broadcast in extreme scenarios such as crowded areas. Xtender offers broadcasters the flexibility to use cellular connectivity as part of their existing SNG/ENG trucks, bridging cellular and satellite connections for the best live video performance or for remotely connecting to the LiveU dongle and handheld uplink units.
American manufacturer Teradek designs and manufactures high-performance video solutions for general imaging, film and broadcast applications. From wireless monitoring, color correction and lens control to live streaming, SaaS solutions and IP video distribution. Both professionals and amateurs alike use this technology throughout the world to capture and share engaging content.
Regarding backpack solutions, its product portfolio includes the Bond 659 Backpack AVC + MPEG-TS with high-gain antennas and the possibility to choose between Gold or V mounts, or without a battery adapter for portable batteries. Each backpack supports up to 5 USB or Teradek Node dongles, ensuring connectivity wherever you go.
The Enlace Pro Radome products and Node modems, both from Teradek, are ideal solutions to face any location for a successful live broadcast.
The French company Aviwest is shaping the future of live and deferred video contribution over linked unmanaged IP networks: cellular, WiFi, satellite or the public Internet networks. The PRO3 series integrates up to eight cellular 3G/4G modems or six cellular 3G/4G/5G modems, compatible worldwide with a custom and patented high-efficiency antenna array. The device can also be remotely connected to external Aviwest QUAD antennas in order to strengthen signal transmission in critical environments. It natively supports additional links such as built-in WiFi and Dual Gigabit Ethernet for relaying on LAN/WAN, BGAN, GX, or Ka-band satellite networks.
The Aviwest AIR series is a solution available in three versions: without built-in cellular modems (for wired installations), with two built-in 3G/4G modems or with two 3G/4G/5G modems. All models come with additional interfaces such as Ethernet, WiFi, and dual USB ports.
The WMT UltraLink Enterprise family of encoders from manufacturer Mobile Viewpoint is the first bonded backpack transmitter to deliver true 4K. It is capable of delivering true 4K and Ultra HD video quality at 50/60 frames per second from the fields using 4G link technology. In addition to its 4K capabilities, UltraLink increases the input connections to four 3G and one 12G for enhanced performance and flexibility. The units are capable of supporting up to 40MB/sec over linked networks and can stream back to a studio or to the cloud by using up to eight internal 3G/4G/5G, WiFi, LAN and/or satellite modems and can link all of these connections together to make a single high-bandwidth connection.
By using an adaptive bit rate, the UltraLink product line streamlines video transmission based on the available bandwidth. This ensures high-quality video even in the most demanding situations.
Intinor, a Swedish company, presents the Direkt Link 500 and Link 600 backpacks. These pieces of equipment are used for live broadcast and distribution of video and audio over the Internet and other IP networks. This unique backpack solution is based on the Easyrig vest, which is ergonomic and can of course be combined with its camera gear.
The TVU One 4K HDR model from manufacturer TVU Networks can broadcast up to 4K 60p at 3 Mbps in 10-bit HDR image quality. Unmatched performance with six internal modems plus four external modems, WiFi, and a built-in hotspot. Two-way VoIP communication and internal recording for up to seven hours. TVU transmitters use less data and fight packet loss to achieve broadcasts with up to a 0.5 second delay, even in a moving vehicle.
Each and every one of these broadcast backpack-based solutions offers several advantages worth highlighting:
– Allow every camera operator to be a live broadcast point at any time and in any location.
– Guarantee the reliability and quality of broadcasts through the 4G LTE and 5G network.
– Integrate the signals relayed with platforms such as Facebook Live, YouTube and Twitch.
– Decrease live-related costs.
– Start a live broadcast in nearly no time.
Any user willing to work in the audiovisual market as a camera operator or as a content creator must have proper audiovisual training and some basic technical equipment: a video camera, a tripod, a handheld microphone and a tie microphone (wired and/or wireless), power batteries, a portable lighting torch, various storage media for recording, the relevant video and audio cables; and certainly a complete 4G/5G backpack for unlimited live broadcasts.