Eight national and international broadcast networks have joined an IBC Accelerator that aims to assess the current reality and future potential of 5G in remote production. 

EE 5G Remote Broadcast with BT Sport

Remote Production: Identified as one of the key reasons broadcasters are looking to adopt 5G technology

Source: BT Sport

With its promise of mobility, flexibility, and reliability, 5G remote production is one of the most compelling use cases for 5G technology and could revolutionise the production of live content such as sports, news, entertainment and events. 

An IBC Accelerator – 5G Remote Production – is being backed by some of the biggest names in the broadcast and media sector. 

The Accelerator is also very topical: remote production has suddenly become an essential part of broadcasters’ day-to-day operations because of the Covid-19 pandemic.  

5G has the potential to allow broadcasters to enhance coverage and streamline production, potentially allowing many more cameras and microphones. Remote production enables new workflows and could enable some staff to work on multiple events a day from a central broadcast centre. 

The Accelerator will design and evaluate several 5G-based production system architectures including public networks and standalone ‘non-public networks’ (NPN).  These will be used to connect wirelessly to multiple audio and video devices which can be configured for either local or remote control.  

Accelerator Title: 5G Remote Production

Champions: Al Jazeera, BBC, BT Sport, ITV, SVT, TV2, ViacomCBS, Yle, Olympic Broadcast Services, EBU

Participants: Mobile Viewpoint, Huawei, Aviwest, Sony, LiveU, NewTek

The project is being led by Ian Wagdin, senior technology transfer manager at BBC R&D, who spoke to IBC365 about the potential of 5G in content creation back in February. BBC R&D brings previous experience of Accelerators having been a Champion of a smart tourism VR/AR proof-of-concept at IBC2019. 

Ian Wagdin

BBC: R&D senior technology transfer manager Ian Wagdin

Observing that commentary around 5G is currently close to the peak of the Gartner hype curve, Wagdin said, “We absolutely recognise that there’s a lot of potential of what we could do within the production environment using 5G. As content creators, we don’t really fully understand it yet. We want to come up with a shared understanding of how we might deploy 5G; what we can actually do now; might be able to do next and then what we could do later.” 

Understanding how 5G moves on from 4G bonded cellular and how the new technology links into new production techniques being driven by the migration from traditional SDI to IP and from traditional centralised production facilities and OBs to cloud based workflows are some of the Accelerator’s objectives.  

Work groups have been established to focus on five distinct, but inter-related areas. The first is collating diverse use cases that are of interest to the different champions. An Infrastructure work group is defining network architectures to be evaluated. A third group will investigate the impact of 5G and associated technologies such as edge computing and artificial intelligence (AI) on workflows. Another is evaluating the capabilities of the latest 5G-enabled cameras and devices. The final workstream is exploring the relationships between radio spectrum used in production and what may be available in the 5G space. 

The strong support for the Accelerator is in part explained by the relevance of the topic to both “the suits and T-shirts”. Broadcasters’ management want to understand how 5G will enable the creation of more content for less, impact on business or operational models and save money. Meanwhile, operational staff on the ground are keen to understand the hands-on practicalities of a 5G deployment.  

Purminder Gandhu, technology transfer and partnerships manager at the BBC, is leading the collation of use cases from the Accelerator’s champions. The impact that the availability of reliable 5G connectivity could have on each use case is being evaluated. Considerations extend beyond the purely technical: the findings of the Accelerator could encourage the replacement of infrastructure, technology and kit with corresponding capex or opex implications.  

Matt Stagg, BT Sport 2019 bw 1x1

Matt Stagg: Director of mobile strategy at BT Sport

Improving costs and portability 
Improved portability of wireless cameras could also simplify many workflows and stimulate creativity by enabling shots that were previously impractical. Administrative savings in areas such as risk assessments are also possible. 

The infrastructure work group, led by Matt Stagg, director of mobile strategy at BT Sport, has adopted the principle that any architecture it considers needs to be vendor, broadcaster, device and operator agnostic. As such, their findings should be of interest to all broadcasters.  

Three architectures have been identified so far with work to explore other options ongoing. 

The first is a completely standalone non-public network. Probably the most capital intensive, this option could be envisaged in a stadium, arena or studio complex and would connect wireless 5G cameras without the involvement of a mobile operator. 

The second option is a hybrid which might operate on dedicated spectrum supported by the base stations of a public network but on a separate, privately owned core network.    

Option three would rely on a public network but use network slicing - or some other way of differentiating a service on a public network – to deliver the required bandwidth, latency and stability. 

Trial networks will be considered for all architectures scenarios and tested against pre-defined KPIs for the identified use cases. 

The infrastructures being evaluated could also be relevant beyond broadcasters: they could also be utilised for non-broadcast event productions. 

Mobile Edge Compute has been widely promoted as a game-changing feature of the 5G proposition. With many broadcasters already exploring its use in production, it made sense for the Accelerator to investigate the synergies further. Potential use cases include artificial intelligence and content rendering at the edge. 

Traditionally there were two ways to access processor-heavy applications: sign-up for a cloud service or build a dedicated computing resource. 5G mobile edge computing heralds a third way. 

With the adoption of cloud-based production, content could potentially be analysed as it moves from acquisition to its destination. This work group, also led by Wagdin, will look at the scope for mobile edge computing to enhance or automate production processes using AI.  

Matt Okotie, Lead Systems Engineer at ViacomCBS leads the devices work group that will evaluate 5G-enabled user equipment, gateway devices, contribution and camera technology in the context of three production scenarios:  

  • A single wireless camera backhauled to a broadcast centre via a non-public network;  
  • Multiple wireless cameras connecting to a local production hub from which content is backhauled to the broadcast centre;  
  • Multiple wireless cameras multiplexed and produced remotely at the broadcast centre. 

The group aims to demystify what is currently available and is also keen to evaluate how different codecs perform in a 5G environment and whether some are better suited to individual identified use cases than others. 

5G smartphones will also be tested to see how close their performance can actually get to tier one HD cameras. Interoperability between various devices and cloud systems will also be investigated. 

As TV production makes extensive use of radio spectrum, broadcasters are familiar with the process of booking and deploying radio devices and managing complex radio operations. As such, they will be almost unique as potential customers of 5G solutions. Given that 5G is being deployed across many different bands, some of which are neighbouring those currently used in production, the final workstream led by the BBC’s Simon Eley is looking at how spectrum may be exploited. 

Arriving at standardised ways measuring the latency through a 5G remote production system, the quality of the codecs and workflow metrics would be a valuable output from the Accelerator. “Having a common voice will help us buy this stuff more cleverly,” concludes Wagdin.  

The findings of this Accelerator may also provide insight into how the IBC show floor might evolve over the coming years.  

In the absence of IBC2020 the IBC Accelerator programme continues to help broadcasters, studios and media & entertainment organisations collaborate to drive innovation throughout the year. By providing an environment for remote/virtual multi-company R&D, the Accelerators have come into their own in the current crises. 

The Accelerators will feature in the IBC week of online sessions being developed for September. To find out more about the IBC2020 Accelerator Media Innovation Programme or to get involved, click here