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A step closer: 5G opens up new opportunities for live production

Dominik Wrona
Head of Core Portfolio

Getting to the heart of the action. That’s what every sports fan wants – whether they’re singing on the terraces or sitting on their sofa.

It’s also what every creative broadcaster wants for their customers: a truly engaging and involving experience that allows fans to share the highs and the lows of following a team or individual hero to sporting glory.

And it is exactly what 5G technology, in its various iterations, promises to production companies and broadcasters around the world. As broadcasters continue their transition to an all-IP, cloud-based workflow, 5G has become one of the hottest topics in media circles.

Live Production Trial - Rugby

Earlier this year, BT Media and Broadcast delivered two successful demonstrations of 5G in a live production environment, starting at the StoneX Stadium, home to Saracens’ rugby union club. The Gallagher Premiership rugby match between Saracens and Northampton Saints showcased for the first time the benefits that 5G deployed with cloud-based technologies can bring to broadcasters.

To conduct the trial, teams from BT Media & Broadcast, BT Sport and, EE – worked together over several months to design, develop and build a 5G private network at the stadium. The network enabled untethered, low-latency cameras to be integrated into the production workflow for the end-to-end live broadcast, allowing the operators to move freely along the pitch during the match and for pre-match presentations.

Going beyond the traditional capabilities of current radio-frequency (RF) solutions, the solution enabled the convergence of wireless technology onto a single platform by providing a true bi-directional communication path., opening up possibilities for wireless microphones, return vision, comms and camera control. 

The trial also illustrated the true power of software-defined, cloud-based production. The transmission was distributed over the 5G network to BT’s on-site OB truck, and backhauled over the Vena network, so that the game could be completely controlled remotely at High Wycombe. Another output of the game was also distributed through the Vena network into AWS, enabling cloud-based vision and software mixers, replay systems and graphics. BT’s network coupled with cloud and 5G technology in this way demonstrated a future vision that encourages creativity, efficiency, and sustainability.

Live Production Trial – Commonwealth Games

The second 5G Private Network trial was used for the BBC’s coverage of the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham – the first time the technology had been deployed for an event of this scale, with 300 million viewers.

Using the 5G network, the BBC harnessed multiple, synchronised cameras to create live coverage of the Games for The One Show. Deploying the network at Victoria Square in Birmingham, the trial demonstrated that wireless cameras can be used anywhere, including in congested areas full of people using their mobile devices.

The live footage was also produced and distributed without an outside broadcast truck, travelling over the 5G network into the on-site 5G cell, across BT’s fibre network to the internet gateway, and finally securely traversing the internet to BBC’s gateway, internal network and on to BBC Broadcasting House.

The 5G cell used was originally built and designed for the Emergency Services Network, for deployment across the country to hard-to-reach places. By bringing together the immense capability across BT Group, Media and Broadcast were able to redeploy it for the media industry. Through 5G’s ultra-fast speed and being separate from the public 5G network used by the crowd, the BBC benefited from service quality and significant bi-directional bandwidth, delivering the live feeds to BBC’s productions facilities reliably.

The path to network slicing?

Before 5G rolled out, the media industry became very excited with the idea of network slicing, by being able to book and guarantee bandwidth for live transmission. This technology remains in development. With 5G private networks, this benefits broadcasters in a very similar way, but only for building on-location.

Nonetheless, it is essential to advance the capabilities and innovations that 5G makes possible. Live sporting events – and other similarly-sized mass entertainment – remain a real challenge thanks to the competing demand for data and bandwidth from fans, broadcasters, stadium operators, and the wider community..

Network prioritisation could be the next stage. That would allow tracts of network to be prioritised so that cameras can be set a few feet from the action in the stadium as well as remote locations. That would allow broadcasters to continue production beyond their current network capabilities.

Beyond that, network slicing would give network managers highly granular control of their network’s capacity, which would enable different channels to be prioritised at different times – paving the way for public mobile networks to be used, and even more sporting events to be brought into the broadcasting fold.

Integrating 5G into production workflows is a step towards that goal, providing the best media experience to billions worldwide. In the meantime, boundaries continue to be pushed and roadmaps co-developed to accommodate broadcast needs. More live trials will show producers what can be achieved in a live broadcast setting.

Right now, 5G is all about the art of possible. Which is why it’s one of the most exciting developments in broadcast and media technology. But with private networks, it’s just taken a step closer to becoming widespread reality, which is more exciting still.

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