With an aim to address the dilemma that broadcasters face about which video transport assets to deploy for live news coverage, Dejero collaborated with Intelsat to launch the CellSat solution, which is designed to communicate with the satellite terminal auto-acquire system to simplify the satellite connection process.

Satellite and technologies co-exist to deliver ground breaking news

For decades, the use of satellite for newsgathering has been the dominant delivery platform for live TV news. But with the convenience cellular technology offers, is satellite still relevant to newsgathering? Josephine Tan finds some answers.

News plays a purposeful role in people’s daily lives. It provides people with noteworthy information and groundbreaking announcements about current events taking place across the globe.

Traditionally, news is predominantly delivered on print and TV. It then entered the age of Internet, where several news websites are created to provide supplemental or follow-up reports as the story continues to develop.

And as people’s daily lives now revolve around scrolling down their timelines on Facebook or Twitter, these social media and video streaming platforms are becoming their first point of contact when it comes to breaking news. The breaking news market, to a degree, might not be exclusive to TV, and has been partially replaced by social media platforms for distribution of information.

Cameron O’Neill, director, Asia-Pacific, Riedel Communications, tells APB: “In the past, if something newsworthy happened, a witness would have to report it to a news source, who would then have to dispatch someone to the scene. But now those original witnesses are the newsgatherers because they can now post a video on any platform, which will then quickly find its way into the traditional news media. For broadcasters, they have to be prepared to react at a pace never seen before.”

Agreeing with O’Neill’s point on the shift towards video streaming and social media platforms, Rob Cerbone, vice-president and general manager, media services, Intelsat, says: “Rapidity, agility and flexibility are key to capture this new segment of the market, across all platforms — TV, tablets or PCs — and broadcasters need to develop new business models posi­tioning them on this platform mix.”

Stressing that traditional TV broadcasting remains strong, Cerbone adds that the quality and timeliness of live reporting are crucial for broadcasters to deliver a relevant product, hence professional journalism for the coverage of breaking news is irreplaceable.

He explains: “Newsgathering trucks, equipped with conventional satellite, remains, however, the most reliable option for broadcasters who need to reach to a broad audience in a breaking news environment where other resources may be highly congested or contended.”

For instance, he points out that the surge in online video traffic often leads to crashing, buffering, slow start-up time and latency compared to broadcast feeds. The Internet, accord­ing to Cerbone, is not designed to accommodate these traffic surges and the resulting strain on the terrestrial networks translates to a poor viewing experience, thus creating low viewer engagement and subscriber churn.

“The reliability and ubiquity of satellite contribution services, combined with innovations and services, will play a critical role in helping content delivery networks navigate this growth in online video traffic while supporting live TV news reporting,” he adds.

Intelsat recently partnered Dejero to develop CellSat, a solution that combines cellular and satellite connectivity. Using Dejero’s network blending technology to combine cellular connectivity from multiple mobile network carriers with Ku-band IP connectivity provided by Intelsat, the CellSat solution provides users the required bandwidth to go live from any location.

“Some broadcasters rely on cellular networks to transmit digital video, because of its ease-of-use and minimal equipment requirements,” says Cerbone. “The challenge is that as broadcasters compete for available bandwidth from a very specific location, where wireless networks are often not able to handle the surges in video traffic around events, the quality and timeliness of the live reporting is put at risk.”

For Dejero, the introduction of the CellSat solution is aimed to “address the dilemma that broadcasters face about which video transport assets to deploy to a news story or live event”, claims Bogdan Frusina, founder of Dejero.

The CellSat solution is designed to communicate with the satellite terminal auto-acquire system to simplify the satellite connection process. This, according to the companies, eliminates the need to schedule satellite time, thus saving news crews time and remove the constraint of broadcasting within a certain time window. In addition to managing the bandwidth of individual cellu­lar connections, CellSat software is able to dynamically allocate satellite bandwidth for optimal performance.

“The Dejero proposition for CellSat is that content is streamed live from the location across all available IP network connections. That might be Wi-Fi or Ethernet, if available, or multiple cellular links and now, using CellSat, with IP satellite connections,” says Frusina. “What Dejero does is packetise the video and audio streams and send it over to an IP transport path that is available, analysing the characteristics of all the available connections, and blending the networks to provide the optimal path for delivering IP packets to the playout destination.”

While satellite newsgathering (SNG) trucks remain a critical component for large news events and mission-critical shots, Frusina suggests that the role of SNG truck is changing due to the rise of cellu­lar technology.

He elaborates: “At one time, satellite dominated because it was the only way for broadcasters to confidently achieve live broadcasts from remote locations. SNG became the video transport route of choice for broadcasters looking to get live reports from breaking news and large-scale planned events to the studio, because it gave a large degree of freedom.

“In place of traditional broadcast transmission equipment such as satellite or microwave, broadcasters now regularly use cellular technology to send video signals over the same wireless networks that are used for voice and data communications. Besides ease of operation, relying on cellular networks also enables local TV stations to cover news events that they might have otherwise not been able to cover.”

One constraint in relying on conventional SNG alone, according to Frusina, is the fact that it depends on video circuits that need to be booked in advance, and may be in short supply during a major news story, while incurring a significant cost. On the other hand, cellular network congestion and location also poses another challenge when it comes to bandwidth availability for news crews relying on cellular connectivity to transport video from the field.

He concludes: “The ability to use blended networks has given broadcast journalists the ability to be on-site and on-air quickly, allowing them to deliver reports as fast as live streaming platforms. With CellSat, those journalists can provide reports, which will be live streamed as well as stored for later bulletins.

“Moreover, new platforms such as Facebook Live are rapidly soaking up available cellular bandwidth; thus, professionals using CellSat can continue to stream live while individual social media users occupy areas with limited cellular bandwidth.”

For LiveU, the company has similarly developed an integrated satellite and cellular solution, which is designed to add Ka or Ku satellite bands to LiveU’s bonded cellular units while optimising the use of the different connection points based on network conditions.

Baruch Altman, assistant vice-president, CTO office, LiveU, says: “Hybrid IP solutions empower broadcasters to upgrade their SNG trucks from SD to HD, or from HD to 4K/Ultra HD (UHD), without the need for additional satellite spectrum. In addition to ensuring better utilisation of existing Capex and Opex SNG resources, LiveU’s hybrid technology allows users to use cellular at high priority, and automatically adds bandwidth from the satellite segment as needed.”

The all-IP hybrid solution comprises portable and rack-mount LiveU encoders, satellite modems, and the LiveU roof-mounted Xtender with multiple cellular connections. One Chinese TV station, Shenzhen Media Group (SZMG), has deployed LiveU’s LU700 encoder and Xtender together with satellite transmission.

Zhao Weigang, director of SZMG’s technical department, says: “This integrated solution enables us to transmit more live uplinks simultaneously. It offers reliability even in severe conditions, such as heavy rain, and provides dual-link transmission redundancy. As a news and media company, we need to be able to transmit live in any condition, and this solution delivers the reliability and performance we’re looking for.”

While Altman affirms satellite’s relevance as part of hybrid satellite and cellular solutions, he predicts that in the near future, there will be more cellular bonding systems being adopted for newsgathering transmission in all geographies, and for all content owners.

He explains that in some countries, as many as 70% to 90% of previously operated SNGs are being put out of service. Furthermore, new trucks are not being bought, and existing SNGs are being used less frequently due to a high number of cellular bonding systems being used globally on a daily basis for news coverage.

“In Asia-Pacific, which has some of the most advanced cellular networks in the world — notably Japan, South Korea and increasingly urban China — cellular bonding is a reliable and effective alternative,” Altman adds. “Nonetheless, satellite is fairly strong in places with poor cellular coverage or are more traditional in their approach; however, these areas are becoming fewer and fewer.”

LiveU has also recently entered into a partnership with the Associated Press (AP) for the launch of AP Live Community, a live video content and service exchange platform for global newsgathering. Combining AP’s global news network with LiveU’s technologies, the online platform expedites live coverage of breaking news and events in any location by connecting live video publishers and contributors around the world.

Paul Shanley, director of business development and partnerships at AP, says: “AP Live Community builds on AP’s expertise in live video coverage through our Global Media Services, giving news organisations, broadcasters, digital publishers and corporate users of live video content the ability to commission live video coverage worldwide.

“As demand for live content increases, this platform eliminates the complexity broadcasters currently face in having to source video production crews who are able to competently deliver live coverage. And because the AP Live Community platform provides automatic pairing, receiving the live transmission is hassle-free.”

LiveU has developed an integrated satellite and cellular solution, which comprises portable and rack-mount LiveU encoders, satellite modems, and the LiveU roof-mounted Xtender with multiple cellular connections.

AP Live Community, which is free to access, enables publishers to offer their consumers a wide range of live content, including events they otherwise may not have been able to cover, and those where a live feed is needed immediately. The platform also allows service providers the opportunity to pitch content or, with LiveU’s cloud-based technology facilitating content sharing, increase their revenues by offering their content to multiple publishers simultaneously.

For Riedel, the company foresees the development of 4G and 5G technologies offering “some interesting possibilities” for remote newsgathering, but at the same time maintains the stand that traditional SNG will still have its role to play in the broadcast ecosystem.

O’Neill concludes: “We’ve got a few customers now who are using our combined Artist and MediorNet systems in their SNG trucks. Together, these systems allow for a single operator to communicate with their MCR (master control room), set up their video router and processing, and interact with the crew on the scene.

“The features are available directly over a single platform, from video or audio routing to on-the-spot video transport. These are all interlinked, allowing users to set up once and go live. In news, being first is important, and the time spent in reconfiguring the unit is time that journalists are not gathering news.”

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