The Future Of Bonded Cellular

As the 2022 NAB Show approaches, leading TV bonded cellular manufacturers reveal what can be seen in their exhibits and the direction bonded cellular TV news and sports transport is headed.

The Broadcast Bridge recently questioned leaders of three companies that manufacture, and market bonded cellular solutions to TV broadcasters. The following answers and advice, in alphabetical order, were provided by Yvonne Monterroso, Director of Product Management at Dejero, Dan Pisarski, VP of Engineering at LiveU and Matt McEwen, VP of Product Management at TVU Networks.

Will bonded cellular be a victim of its own success?

Dejero: “No, we believe that bonded cellular will continue to grow even with the emergence of new technologies like 5G because carrier diversity is essential. Applications relying on wireless internet connectivity — particularly those needing higher upload speeds to transmit uninterrupted high-quality live video or real-time data — can use multi-modem cellular bonding devices to aggregate multiple cellular connections to achieve the required bandwidth and connection resilience.

Organizations who rely on a single connection are taking a big risk, especially if they need resilient connectivity while in motion, such as in a vehicle, or when a reporter is moving between locations. That’s why carrier diversity is a key aspect of bonded cellular — making it essential for broadcasters and anyone who depends on critical communications.”

LiveU: “Cellular bonding is a ‘good citizen’ when it comes to wireless networks. Many of the techniques used in our devices are supportive of total network bandwidth and supportive: use of UDP-based protocols instead of TCP, uplink vs downlink bandwidth, verification with selective re-sends (ARQ) are all "bandwidth conservers" vs protocols like TCP or HTTP, which use many more acknowledgements and resends, thus eating up more network capacity just to carry the protocol. That is just at a protocol level - by using bonding, devices like ours are also distributing bandwidth across several networks and potentially across more towers, more radios, more backhauls, etc.”

What can broadcasters do to avoid network congestion?

Dejero: “Network congestion is just one of the several factors that impact cellular reception and available bandwidth. Others include physical obstructions such as hilly terrain and dense foliage, the building materials if you’re inside a building, weather conditions which could cause electromagnetic interference, and even the proximity to cellular antenna towers.

All of the above can slow down your internet speed and result in a poor experience. There are only two things that broadcasters can do about it: Pick a different location with better cellular reception or use a bonded cellular solution to mitigate the risks. Unfortunately, broadcasters rarely have the luxury of picking a new location.

The Dejero EnGo’s ‘Connection Types’ menu lets users decide which available connections they want to use. Courtesy Dejero.

The Dejero EnGo’s ‘Connection Types’ menu lets users decide which available connections they want to use. Courtesy Dejero.

It also explains why EnGo is Dejero’s most popular product. EnGo mobile transmitters use Smart Blending Technology, which was invented and patented by Dejero. It blends 4G/5G cellular connections from multiple wireless network providers to leverage carrier diversity and deliver greater internet reliability. Any IP connection can be added to the mix, including wi-fi, fiber, and satellite. This technology uses all the available connections and manages the fluctuating bandwidth, packet loss, and latency differences of individual connections in real-time.”

LiveU: “Like any technology, there are certainly ‘best practices’ for bonded cellular, but many are quite simple. Make sure the device is standing in its intended orientation, not laying on its side - so that the antennas can radiate with the intended pattern. Also, keep other sources of potential interference as far away from the device as you can (often a few feet is enough to cut back on interference), such as other RF gear. Next, when possible, plan for the location and shoot you are trying to cover - if you know ahead of time it will be a ‘challenge’ (very large crowds, very distant locations from towers, potentially down networks from weather or other damage, etc.), bring the unit appropriate to that situation such as with more modems, or with a supplemental source of bandwidth (like our Xtender add-on device). Also consider services such as our prioritized AT&T sims, that can elevate your priority above ‘consumer’ traffic.”

The LiveU Xtender adds six more network connections to LiveU’s portable transmission units and covers all current 3G/4G LTE-Advanced cellular network bands worldwide. Courtesy LiveU.

The LiveU Xtender adds six more network connections to LiveU’s portable transmission units and covers all current 3G/4G LTE-Advanced cellular network bands worldwide. Courtesy LiveU.

TVU: “In most areas, this is no longer a problem. Previously, we’d have to organize a WiFi hotspot or microwave mesh set up for large events like the SuperBowl, the Olympics, and political conventions. For the last few years, bandwidth has not been an issue. The carriers have done a great job building out connectivity for larger events and now there is typically adequate bandwidth.

With IS+ transmission, users can simultaneously aggregate any kind of connection without having to stop the transmission… including cell, Wifi, Satellite, wired connections etc. You can dynamically add connections or remove them, which adds to the flexibility in the field.”

How does bonded cellular interact with cloud services and broadcast workflows?

Dejero: “The transition to IP connections and bonded cellular has become a priority for broadcasters looking to streamline their operations. The pandemic also accelerated the demand for on-the-fly collaboration and the shift to remote, virtual and cloud production. This shift is more pronounced in sports coverage, where events require complex infrastructure to connect multiple venues and challenging types of terrain can make the job even harder.

By eliminating the need to build a fixed infrastructure that might only be used partially or abandoned due to last-minute cancellations, bonded cellular connectivity, combined with cloud solutions, can easily accommodate changing circumstances. With the restrictions around in-person attendance, event organizers really need to send video streams not only to broadcasters, but also to digital and social platforms.”

LiveU: “Bonded cellular is your "on ramp" to your cloud workflow - the bonded stream can be sent direct to the cloud where it can participate in your full workflow. That can be from a fixed location like your physical facility, from the field via the portable packs, or even from your vehicle or fly-pack. Our units have recently been used in all-cloud live productions, in rapid content creation via cloud NLE platforms, and in cloud distribution to many recipients all repurposing the source content for different uses. More than just a one-way ramp too, our devices support full "IO" including coms, video return, camera control return, tally, etc. - all from the same connections and from the same device.”

TVU: “We’ve been focused on cloud-based live production for the past few years. Our uplink devices are also now the edge devices for our live cloud production suite – TVU Producer, TVU Channel, TVU Partyline and TVU Remote Commentator. For instance, if someone wants to do remote multi-camera production, they can use multiple, synchronized TVU One mobile transmitters as live sources and switch them in the Cloud using Producer. The integration is simple. For example, you can add our TVU Anywhere mobile transmitter with our Cloud based production tools with a simple scan of a QR code.”

TVU recently partnered with Blackbird to integrate cloud-native, real-time editing into TVU Producer. Courtesy TVU Networks.

TVU recently partnered with Blackbird to integrate cloud-native, real-time editing into TVU Producer. Courtesy TVU Networks.

Where is it going and what will be next?

Dejero: “When French channel TV8 Mont-Blanc needed to broadcast two alpine races across the Swiss/French border, they employed a combination of Dejero video contribution technology and Dazzl cloud-native live production tools to deliver uninterrupted coverage to multiple platforms. They used Dejero Smart Blending Technology to simplify their workflow, collaborate remotely, and overcome challenging network conditions — the alpine region is notorious for fluctuating network coverage.

Thanks to our partnership with Dazzl, they seamlessly sent the video stream to the Dazzl cloud server for use by the TV8 Mont-Blanc producer, ultimately creating three live streams for distribution over Vimeo, YouTube and the TV channel.”

LiveU: Protocols like LTE and 5G's "NR" (New Radio), which use techniques like larger and larger channels (from a MHz standpoint), "carrier aggregation" (bonding of the underlying channels in a network), and MIMO, represent a sort of "wireless protocol convergence". You can see this in the recent repurpose of frequencies like C-Band or CBRS into LTE and 5G networks. Also, in the huge expansion of these techniques into spectrum like millimeter wave (MMW). Based on this it is easy to envision where all wireless protocols are the same protocol - probably a protocol in the LTE/NR family.

Devices from consumer handsets to professional devices such as LiveU will all use slices of this single, massive "network" - including with the ability to negotiate with the network on just how big a slice that use-case needs, and for how long. In this future, both bandwidth and latency are much more deterministic, a sort of in-air "fiber", and devices such as ours are the professional gateway to that fiber - providing the right inputs, outputs, routing, and monitoring to use that invisible pipe to accomplish even the most demanding transmissions.”

TVU: “With regard to aggregated cellular, we’re moving toward it being seamlessly integrated into our cloud production workflows. There’s a lot of new technology still coming including 5G mmWave, and the new high-speed satellite-based tech, Starlink, from SpaceX coming online that looks to provide internet coverage to most of the planet. We believe our customers will still want the ability to aggregate any and all available connections in order to guarantee they can make their live shots successful. They will still want a platform that allows this with relative ease, which has always been a focus of ours.”

What do you plan to introduce at the 2022 NAB Show?

Dejero: “We’ll be debuting our new EnGo 265 mobile transmitter at NAB 2022. It further enhances connectivity with new high-efficiency antennas and world-class RF design to ensure ultra-reliable cellular reception in poor coverage and crowded areas, and while on the go. This mobile transmitter was purposefully designed for the broadcast and media production markets, and it comes with enhanced security features to protect the content.

The Dejero EnGo 265 launched in December 2021 and will debut at the 2022 NAB Show. Courtesy Dejero.

The Dejero EnGo 265 launched in December 2021 and will debut at the 2022 NAB Show. Courtesy Dejero.

The EnGo 265’s new ‘GateWay mode’ provides wireless broadband internet connectivity in the field to enable mobile teams to reliably, securely and quickly transfer large files, access MAM and newsroom systems, and publish content to social media. GateWay mode also provides general internet access.”

LiveU: We’re planning to unveil a new addition to our end-to-end live video platform. We’re keeping this news quiet until we launch at NAB, but this solution is set to play a key role in boosting efficiency in content acquisition.

We will be showcasing Air Control Broadcast Orchestration Solution to get remote guests on air and live feeds into the system. We will also showcase end-to-end live productions with LiveU’s total cloud ecosystem, Cloud Connect. Collaborations with other leading cloud production providers including Blackbird, Grass Valley, Grabyo, and more will be shown during live workflow demos.

We intend to highlight our end-to-end contribution and distribution solutions including the multi-camera LU800 5G production-level field unit and rich remote production tools built on our LiveU Reliable Transport protocol. LiveU Matrix cloud video management solution will also be shown with its new Dynamic Share service.”

TVU: “While we’ll have some significant news to announce at the show, we’ve moved away from having all of our new technology announced at one point in the year. As a company, we have also adopted the DevOps process, which allows us to work closely with our customers to continuously deliver high quality solutions throughout the year.

Also, while we’re very hopeful that the show will be in person, we’re taking a very cautious approach to trade shows. The health and safety of our staff and colleagues are of primary importance. We plan to introduce new cloud-based applications and new 5G-enabled transmitters and routers.”

What is the future of 5G and TV broadcasting?

Dejero: “For Dejero, 5G is the next evolution of wireless IP connections, offering an ultra-fast connection path that can be aggregated with any other IP connections available to reliably deliver the bandwidth that broadcasters and media organizations need when operating remotely.

The demanding nature of live news and sports coverage, makes it imperative to have mobile network operator diversity, and support a diversity of cellular technologies (4G/5G). The 4G LTE infrastructure will still be relied on for many years to achieve the bandwidth required for broadcast quality video, broader availability of cellular signals (since individual operators have coverage gaps), low latency, and the high reliability that broadcasters need.”

Live U: “The future is bright. 5G is here to stay and will continue to transform wireless networks. We are effectively only in the earliest stages of the 5G era, in many ways 5G networks have not yet delivered on their early promises - and they are already performing better than the very-mature LTE networks. Over the next few years, we will see 5G lend low latency, high bandwidth, high quality, reliable bi-direction transmission to broadcasters who need it!”

TVU: “We’re looking forward to seeing what performance the carriers deliver. We have the technology to work with it. We created a 5G-based private network in the cloud during the last Mobile World Congress in Shanghai. Using two, portable TVU 5G Rack Routers, we transmitted live, high bitrate 8K UHD video over 5G within the China Unicom booth. It was a technology demonstration, but it showed some of the future potential of 5G for broadcast.”

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