Going Wireless in 2021

  • By Andy Stout

Going Wireless in 2021

Contributing Editor Andy Stout looks at how the move to IP and the ongoing transition to 5G is affecting wireless video transmission...

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Despite the current disruptions in the industry caused by the move to IP and the gradually snowballing roll out of 5G, the pain points of transmitting video wirelessly are almost timeless.

“They are just the same as they ever were,” says Colin Tomlin, MD of VideoSys. “The key is a reliable RF carrier, be that in the old days a point to point link or these days using COFDM and diversity reception. The thing to remember is, once the signal has left your TX antenna you have no control over it, so you must do all you can by selection of equipment and antennas to mitigate possible problems. No two jobs can be assumed to be the same.” VideoSys’ Epsilon RF CCU system at least helps with the complication of rigging the equipment.  “Many engineers are put off RF equipment as being too complicated or it’s all a bit too hard to do,” says Tomlin. “What we did was to combine all the major building blocks into the single system as easy to rig as a normal CCU.”

MESH is the next thing for the company. “This will allow us to piggyback other services such as return video and intercom onto a single bi-direction link service,” says Tomlin, indicating that there will be a MESH version of the Epsilon CCU system coming soon.

There is a dichotomy at the heart of modern wireless broadcast design, however, as Andy Clipsham, Senior Technical Product Manager at Dejero explains.

“A major challenge in the design of wireless technology is that more and more antennas are required in devices, making them large and clunky when the market needs devices to remain small, lightweight and portable,” he says. “This covers cellular of course, but also Wi-Fi, GPS, and Bluetooth. Providing the network and carrier diversity needed to meet connectivity requirements calls for a multitude of antennas and supporting subsystems. “In a portable device, providing reliable ultra-wideband connectivity is especially challenging because it requires fitting and isolating many antennas within a compact form factor; for an antenna to operate efficiently, RF interference must be carefully managed.”

As a result of all this, the latest model of the company’s mobile transmitter range, the EnGo 260, incorporates what it has dubbed Resilient Wireless Technology to ensure ultra-reliable transmission and reception. Clipsham says this means it works even in the most challenging cellular environments, including remote field locations, deep within buildings, and while on the move.

A large screen, three-hour battery life, and convenient backpack ensure straightforward, reliable operation and simplifies portability. Meanwhile, for broadcast and media, the EnGo also has an optional vehicle antenna dock which has been designed to offer even greater versatility, doubling as a cellular backpack as well as a vibration-test encoder/transmitter in a broadcast vehicle to maximise RF performance. 

Chris Brandrick is Commercial Director at Broadcast RF, which is part of the Euro Media Group and also includes fellow RF specialists Euromedia (France) and EuroLinX (Belgium). As such he has an excellent perspective on the issues regarding the supply of RF technology into major sporting events.

As he points out the move towards UHD is putting pressure on the frequency spectrum at major sports venues that were already congested in HD, though careful planning, early booking, and the use of careful filtering or variable bandwidths in the technology can normally squeeze the systems into the spectrum available. Then, of course, there’s the sheer increase in use.

“There’s an ever-increasing requirement for new cameras, onboard, body-worn or field of play - all requiring RF and power and all to be as small as possible, with, of course the same quality as conventional cameras,” he says.

Broadcast RF has been developing MiniRF cameras since Vancouver 2010 where it deployed helmet-mounted RF cameras on Olympic skiers. The technology has been steadily refined since; a 4G bike-mounted system for covering major cycling events called the Velo4G debuted on the Tour De France in 2019 and provided a racer-eye view from 24 onboard camera systems.

Mention of 4G, of course, inevitably leads to discussion of 5G. “The main interest for us and the broadcast industry are the higher bitrates and lower latencies promised in the standards and more importantly, access to Quality of Service via options like network slicing,” he says. “It is important to understand however that although the promises of 5G look great, the devil is in the detail and it may be a while before some of the real benefits are able to be explored to their full potential. The technology to replace much of what we do in the wireless camera world with 5G is simply not there yet, but Broadcast RF will be at the forefront of it when it is.”

At LiveU, Ronen Artman, VP Marketing, says the key pain point the company saw emerging in the market in 2019 and into 2020 was the growing need for IP-bonding to move to multi-camera capabilities in a single unit, and do it with the high-quality required for high-end sports sector. 

“As the use of our IP-bonding technology has increased across the sports market - from dynamic fan engagement content acquisition to main coverage, alongside complete remote production - we saw the need for a production-level field unit for live news and sports coverage,” he says. “With the gradual rollout of 5G and all the possibilities that brings, alongside the aforementioned increasing use of remote production, we understood the market requirement for a native 5G solution and IP services ecosystem that allows our customers to take full advantage of these new opportunities.” 

The company’s LU800 therefore combines multi-camera production and superior video and audio capabilities with mission-critical transmission in a native 5G unit (plus, of course, support for 4G too). It supports up to four fully frame-synced feeds in high resolution from a single unit via IP bonding of up to 14 connections. Video performance is up to 4Kp60 10-bit HDR transmission, while the unit can also handle up to 16 audio channels for high-end productions. 

“What’s easily lost in talk of new technologies and innovation is that reliable, flawless, high-quality video and audio sits at the heart of what we do, and this mustn’t be forgotten,” cautions Artman. “The sports market has extremely high standards, as do we. Another important point is our ongoing development and deployment of IP-based services and additional production control. There’ll be more news from us soon about this.”

Over on the satcoms/ground segment of the RF Market, Andrew Bond, Sales and Marketing Director of ETL Systems says the importance of reliability has and will remain the most important aspect for broadcasters where RF distribution is involved. As technology has evolved, requirements for smaller and compact RF equipment that link to wireless cameras have also become increasingly important. “ETL’s RF equipment has a long-standing relationship with leading broadcasters and sports events around the world. Our RF matrices have been used globally linking wireless cameras at Wimbledon, Le Mans, Formula 1, The Open, Roland-Garros French Open, to name but a few and are preferred due to flexible, scalable and reliable nature as new camera signals are added to make unique programming”. 

“For example, our Enigma 32x32 RF Matrix is a popular choice with Broadcasters time and again. The Enigma’s design of single input and output RF cards provides a flexible system which can be built to any size and expanded or decreased later. With continuous on-board monitoring and reporting to detect any possible errors, as well as its hot-swap active components, means that it is highly reliable throughout broadcasting. The Enigma Switch Matrix is capable not only of handling high bandwidth and distribution channels, but is a simple ‘plug and go’ solution, providing a much-needed quick and easy set up in Outside Broadcast Trucks or SNG vans.”

Further pressure for equipment manufacturers to provide high capacity, high reliability RF equipment in a compact shelf has provided our RF engineers with a challenge. 

“We have also recently designed and launched a multifunctional chassis called Genus, which futureproofs investments in mobile teleports of all sizes, covering ground segment equipment requirements for both GEO and LEO networks. It Is high density, allowing for our wide range of RF modules including Hawk switch matrices, Falcon frequency converters, Swift redundancy switches, Stingray RF over Fibre, and Alto amplifiers. Having a common platform has allowed us to offer cost effective solutions for a range of RF functions”

Back with 5G, last year TVU launched unveiled its TVU One with HEVC and embedded 5G modules in May for full 5G infrastructure support. Now the sixth generation of the company’s mobile IP video transmitter, it uses the patented TVU Inverse StatMux Plus (IS+) for transmission of 1080p HDR and 4K HLG/HDR. It supports 100Mbps over a 5G cellular infrastructure, and can transmit simultaneously over multiple connections, including cellular 3G/4G/LTE/5G, microwave, satellite, BGAN, WiFi, and Ethernet.