As the 2024 Technical Papers open for submissions, Samuel Yoffe, who was part of the winning team for the Best Tech Paper Award 2023, shared his experience around taking part in the prestigious innovation programme.
The world-renowned IBC Technical Papers tackle real world problems faced by the international broadcast and digital media industry to produce original, novel research and innovation. Submissions for the IBC2024 Technical Papers are now open, with shortlisted papers to be presented at IBC2024.
Yoffe, Postdoctoral Researcher at StrathSDR and Senior Systems Engineer at Neutral Wireless, contributed to the paper 5G Standalone Non-Public Networks: Modernising Wireless Production, where broadcasters pushed the boundaries of experimental production with 5G networks.
The team took inspiration from the broadcasting of HM Queen Elizabeth II’s final departure of from Scotland and 5G at the Commonwealth Games, industry influence and feedback, and overcoming inevitable technical challenges.
Live Broadcast and 5G Systems
“The IBC Technical Paper was put together by BBC R&D and Neutral Wireless / University of Strathclyde, with effort led by Mark Waddell and myself, involving contribution from the extended author list,” Yoffe explained.
“Neutral Wireless is a commercial spin-out from the software-defined radio group at the University of Strathclyde, with long-standing experience in developing and deploying radio networks. This includes software-defined radio networks using TV White Space (TVWS), and large rural fixed wireless access networks in remote or poorly connected areas.
“Neutral Wireless’ journey in the live broadcast space started in 2021, and since has deployed networks to support many broadcasters, including both electronic newsgathering (ENG) contribution-style and low-latency production-style workflows. From UK premier league rugby to our award-winning IBC 2022 Media Accelerator Project of the Year, Danish parliamentary elections, and at Edinburgh Airport for the final departure of HM Queen Elizabeth II from Scotland… and, of course, the Coronation of TM King Charles III and Queen Camilla.”
After performing multiple, rigorous tests form locations at Strathclyde’s 5G rural testbed on the banks of Loch Lomond in Scotland, to outside Buckingham Palace, the team tested and proved how broadcasters’ “bonded-cellular devices could be used to bond public and private networks, and with no change to the operational workflow for camera crews and news teams.”
“Capacity, range and cell handover were investigated… Up to 20 HD video feeds were simultaneously streamed, with the 900m tree-lined driveway used to model The Mall in London.”
The team successfully established connectivity outside Buckingham Palace and demonstrated the workflow, which lead them to then perform radio frequency modelling to “verify the locations and network parameters, which were used to support a shared access licence application to Ofcom,” all in time for Coronation Day.
“We wanted the paper to be an open discussion on the decisions made and the configuration deployed to support such a historic event using the world’s largest pop-up standalone non-public network for media contributions.”
The Call for Innovation
Yoffe noted how many broadcasters are now using bonded-cellular video encoders to provide ENG and contribution feeds, and the issue this raises in high demand density environments.
Broadcast standard workflows become problematic in crowded locations with many devices saturating network resources, “BBC News experienced exactly this during their coverage of the funeral of HM Queen Elizabeth II, and predicted that the crowds expected for the Coronation would cause a similar problem for not only their wireless contribution feeds, but those of all broadcasters. BBC News and BBC R&D approached Neutral Wireless to provide private 5G connectivity outside Buckingham Palace during the Coronation to support a collection of international broadcasters. In order to support many potential contributions, they needed to work with experienced partners to develop an uplink-biased network on a scale that had not been attempted before.”
PoC’s for Inspiration and Technical Challenges
Yoffe also acknowledged that the project “drew heavily on experience from previous PoCs and deployments, such as the award-winning IBC2022 Media Accelerator Project of the Year and the subsequent support for a wireless camera at Edinburgh Airport for the final departure of HM Queen Elizabeth II from Scotland.
He continued to explain that there were several key technical challenges in designing the network support, from wet weather conditions, to latency, logistical and hardware challenges and demonstrating the seamless connectivity with other broadcasters.
“The first concern from the BBC was that the network could support many simultaneous video feeds. The network was configured to use a 2:7 frame structure, which uses more network resources for uplink connectivity and increases uplink capacity. Testing with LiveU in Scotland demonstrated that a single cell could support over 20 HD video streams, with devices moving around and towards the cell edge. With a second cell set up, this testing also demonstrated how cell handover was not an issue for the contribution workflow.”
When the scale of the network was increased to provide connectivity all the way along The Mall, more challenges were discovered: “Cell sites and spectrum reuse plan. An on-site RF survey identified key broadcast infrastructure locations that would be suitable for cell positions (considering locations for seating stands, tree canopy, etc.) in order to provide connectivity for positions of interest. RF modelling was then performed to plan the cell sites and parameters. After deployment, on-site measurements using a mobile handset indicated that the modelling was very accurate, with real coverage actually outperforming prediction.”
Successes and Industry Recognition
After a hugely successful project, Yoffe reflected on the standout achievements - the sheer scale and capacity of the network, with such high demand for connectivity, as well as sharing resources with a range of broadcasters to “benefit the whole community.”
“Deploying the world’s largest pop-up 5G standalone non-public network for media contribution was amazing, but for it to be at such a high profile and historically significant event was exceptional. The trust from the BBC to trial the technology on an unprecedented scale was a big responsibility, and the support from all the partners to ensure the successful delivery was a great example of what collaboration can do.”
According to Yoffe, the response from the industry has been overwhelmingly positive, with broadcasters able to experience the technology themselves at the Coronation, “Many broadcasters publicly noted that their live contributions would not have been possible without the private network due to congestion on the public networks. As well as the ambitious network, Ofcom themselves commented on the excellent use of shared spectrum.”
The team have also received several industry awards, including an EBU Technology & Innovation Award, the IBC Innovation Award for Content Creation, and several highly-commended honourable mentions.
“There has been much more awareness of the use of 5G for broadcast production, and we have seen a significant increase in interest at shows, including IBC, around using private 5G.
“There are still some challenges facing widespread adoption, such as current spectrum licensing, but the industry is definitely more aware and accepting of 5G as a broadcast connectivity tool. The opportunity to present the paper, and receipt of the subsequence awards, was great for engaging with and reaching the right audience.”
Considering the path his involvement has taken him down, Yoffe concluded: “We have developed a good relationship with the BBC and among the partners and hope to work together to support further events in the future. There are some interesting joint use cases in development as part of the DSIT-funded ON-SIDE project based in Glasgow. Neutral Wireless has several exciting events lined up over the next year, and look forward to sharing as future IBC Technical Papers.”
Read more: IBC2023 Technical Papers