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Commonwealth Games 2022: BBC R&D Achieves Two Firsts During 5G Trial

09/08/2022

Birmingham 2022: BBC R&D achieves two firsts during 5G trial By Heather McLean, Editor

Friday, August 5, 2022 - 15:29

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Crowds usually present a challenge for cellular contribution as we fight for capacity with all users. The private 5G network means we are isolated from this, says BBC R&D's Ian Wagdin

Last week saw the opening of the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and, as the UK broadcast rights holder, the BBC has a wealth of coverage across multiple outputs. The bulk of this production effort is well tried and tested but it proved to be a great opportunity for BBC R&D to test new ideas in a complex large scale environment.

This year, BBC R&D is testing 5G standalone non-public networks to provide live pictures from the centre of Birmingham. Speaking to SVG Europe, Ian Wagdin, a senior technology transfer manager at BBC R&D, says: We have used mobile networks for over ten years for contribution feeds and this has revolutionised news coverage alongside use of the internet. While these work really well, because they are on the same network as the general public and other users, at a busy event it is not always possible to guarantee a robust signal when the crowds arrive.

For the past three years BBC R&D has been looking at the potential of 5G to support this type of event, working on standards, commercial and regulatory requirements and various tests and trials, but the Commonwealth Games has given us an ideal opportunity to deploy a network for real. This is the first commercial deployment of 5G in the UK, says Wagdin.

While one of BBC R&D's previous trials, carried out at the Tour de France last month, looked at low latency on radio cameras over 5G, this trial at the Commonwealth Games is focused on the general robustness of 5G, and how certain manufacturer solutions fare on the network, marking a UK first in several ways, from being the first commercial 5G network deployed in the UK, to being the first to use off the shelf kit.

Wagdin continues: We've been working on 5G and how we use 5G for various production projects for quite a while, right the way from working in the standards in regulatory and commercial aspects and things like that, to we've been playing with non-public networks to support production activity for about a year now, testing them, seeing what their capabilities are.

With an opportunity like the Commonwealth Games where you know you're going to have big crowds with lots of people [creating] quite challenging conditions, and an opportunity to really test the technology and environment that we envisage it being used in, [it was a case of] seeing an obvious opportunity when you've got a home Games to push the technology and see how we're getting on.

Ian Wagdin using one of the 5G cameras at the Commonwealth Games

Partnering for success

The trial so far has focused on the baton relay and the marathon at the Commonwealth Games. On Wednesday 27 July, The One Show became the first programme to use this type of technology at scale to cover the Queen's Baton Relay as it arrived in Birmingham, with large crowds that would have the potential to swamp a normal network.

BBC R&D is working with BT Media & Broadcast, which has supplied the 5G network that runs on an Ericsson core, while Mobile Viewpoint has provided its Ultralink Air live stream professional H.264/H.265 encoder, plus technology that manages video streams over the networks.

Says Wagdin: We had two live cameras each with a Mobile Viewpoint unit that took the video feeds and connected to the dedicated 5G network. The BT-provided network was in dedicated spectrum centred around 4050MHz. This enabled us to configure the network to favour uplink traffic, which is typical in a production environment, whereas public networks tend to support more downlink heavy applications.

He continues: [This is] a partnership with BT Media & Broadcast and Vislink's Mobile Viewpoint. For all of us, it's about finding the right working practices and the right form factors for the technology to make it a realistic proposition.

The other key aspect of this trial is that we have no production facilities on site. The signals are passed through the 5G network and backhauled to a Mobile Viewpoint decoder based in our master control room in London. The two cameras are synchronised at this point so we can intercut if required. This option can be removed if latency is of more concern than sync. From there the output is decoded and sent to whichever gallery wants to use the cameras. This could be The One Show in London, BBC Sport in Salford or any of the Nations and Regions galleries around the UK. So basically we've got full remote production here as well. Any of the regions can just take it and put it on air. And it's literally just as simple as switching it on, and that's the other thing; it's familiar kit to them.

The BT Media & Broadcast 5G core on a trailer. Says Ian Wagdin: The form factor is not ideal but the kit works well.

Off the shelf interoperability

The other part of this trial which is a first is the fact that the technologies being used are off the shelf as opposed to customised or adapted. Explains Wagdin: Up to now the technologies we have used on 5G trials have been not necessarily custom built, but adaptations of traditional radio cam technology; all of that is really important to us for low latency. But a big part of covering any event like this is actually getting out and doing the colour pieces and doing the bits that sit around that the main events themselves, so the opportunity to do that, that's really our use case with this particular trial.

In order to achieve that, the best way of architecting it for us was to work with Mobile Viewpoint because they have the capability in their WMT kit to support both 5G a
LINK: https://www.svgeurope.org/blog/headlines/bbc-rd-strikes-two-firsts-in-...
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