BT Sport takes 5G pitchside for live broadcast demo

EE's 5G link supports a live two way broadcast. TMN gets a "slice" of the action.

UK operator BT (EE) has demonstrated what it says is the first live 5G broadcast. An EE 5G trial site provided part of a two-way broadcast between cameras filming pitch-side at Wembley stadium and presenters at Huawei’s Mobile Broadband Forum in East London’s Excel centre. The broadcast was produced at BT Sport’s production centre in East London.

The set-up saw cameras linked via cables into an encoder device, then into a Huawei 5G CPE sited by the side of the pitch.

The red box is the encoder. The white cylinder the Huawei CPE that connects to the 5G NR antenna on the roof

That CPE router connected to a Huawei 3.4GHz 5G NR antenna in the roof of the stadium. The site was connected via EE’s core to BT Sport’s production studio in Stratford, East London. The Excel end of the broadcast was watched live by an audience attending Huawei’s Mobile Broadband Forum.

Up in the roof, the LTE anchor and the 3.4GHz 5G antenna from Huawei.

Cameras with the 5G wireless unit integrated could be 12-18 months away, TMN was told. BT Sport has also been experimenting with a back-pack version on site.

Andy Beale, Chief Engineer, BT Sport, said, “At the minute we are relying on prototype CPEs that are mains powered, also a box with a SIM and encoding technology, but battery power is the key. And it’s 12-18 months for that. In terms of picture quality that could be supported by 5G, he added, “We are expecting that this might work on 4K.”

A broadcast slice

Matt Stagg, Director of Mobile Strategy, BT Sport, said that using 5G to provide connectivity to the cameras in a stadium will mean that broadcasters can guarantee the quality of service they need to deliver live pictures over a cellular network. That’s partly because 5G offers lower latencies and higher bandwidths, but also because network operators can set up a broadcast “slice” over the 5G network, guaranteeing the parameters that broadcasters need, even in environments with thousands of users within a stadium. “Broadcast is a perfect use case for slicing,” Stagg said.

The backpack 5g camera version on trial

Stagg added that another use case for 5G broadcast could be for breaking news events. Taking a wireless, 5G-enabled camera to a site where there is no space to deploy a truck and/or no fibre connectivity could mean that operators could stream broadcast quality live pictures over 5G to a remote production centre.

Another example could be using 5G as a high speed transfer technology for recorded footage when filming on location – essentially as a very fast file transfer technology on the uplink.

Stagg said that the network slicing “end game” – still far off – was the scenario where a camera operator heads to a job with a camera with a SIM inside, opens an ordering app and requests a certain level of service to a postcode – throughput, security etc – that is then provisioned as a slice on the network.

So what might a 5G broadcast slice look like, in terms of the parameters that an operator would need to meet?

“It depends what you want. If you are talking mass file transfers you won’t need that latency piece. It would also depend on the amount of cameras at a production. A reporter with a single carrier could be 20-30Mbps. For a 24 camera production at somewhere like Wembley, you would only need a couple of them to be moving around… but we can certainly match very easily what they do on satellite, which is the competing technology for this.

“But the value for this is not just the cost of bandwidth. With 5G you don’t need the truck, the staff, there’s lots of things.”

From an operator point of view they want a slice that is consumable by their customers. In short, they need an offer. How might they structure a slice than can be accessed and paid for by customers?

“That’s being worked on now,” Stagg added, “We are looking at what the commercial relationship is. At the moment we are working with those customers we already have in broadcast to ensure this technology is fit for purpose.”

Jamie Hindhaugh, COO of BT Sport, said that remote production can enable his business to be more efficient by keeping production teams at their usual offices, instead of working in trucks. He added that freeing up cameras to operate wirelessly could also mean more creative programme-making, as well as giving broadcasters the opportunity to cover events with fewer cameras.