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From 4G to 5G: BT Sport on COVID-19 Forcing the Evolution of Broadcasting With Mobile Tech


From 4G to 5G: BT Sport on COVID-19 Forcing the Evolution of Broadcasting With Mobile Tech By Heather McLean, SVG Europe

Tuesday, March 31, 2020 - 11:39 am

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Broadcasters are working hard to get content onto TV screens despite the self-isolation that most of the world finds itself in today due to the spread of COVID-19. BT Sport is one of those broadcasters finding solutions through the use of everyday technology. At the weekend, BT Sport was able to make the most of its Group affiliation with mobile operator, EE, to use 4G to bring a program host and participants together from their respective homes.

BT Sport's Live: Early Kick Off' programme, broadcast at 11am on Saturday 28 March, was pulled together using EE's 4G mobile network. All the technology for the show was set up by engineers at the homes of each participant (with the engineers working in isolation), with 4G used for all connectivity.

All participants - Adam Lallana, Peter Crouch, Rio Ferdinand, Robbie Savage and Russell Martin - were then able to be filmed at home alone, while host Jake Humphrey was filmed with the help of a technical producer and a camera operator in case of technical issues, all working at a safe distance; for this coming Saturday's show, he will have a technical director only.

The entire programme's crew from Sunset+Vine and BT Sport - director, executive producer, vision mixer, PA, EVS operator, and sound and graphics operators - also all worked from their respective homes.

While last weekend's show was pre-recorded, BT Sport confirmed with SVG Europe that it hopes that the next one will be live. The broadcaster also said this was the way the programme will be produced until the world returns to pre-COVID-19 ways.

Pursuing the possibilities of 4G

Obviously this is not the first time that 4G has been used to broadcast; the first time was in 2013. EE launched 4G a year before the other UK operators because it was able to refarm some of its spectrum. Only days after it first launched the network, Matt Stagg, director of mobile strategy and lead of EE strategy for delivering 4G and 5G networks for the media and broadcast industries, had an impromptu request for help from Sky News, which had trouble getting an OB near to St Mary's Hospital where Prince William's first child was being born at the time. He came up with a solution using a 4G dongle for the broadcaster so the reporter at the hospital could be filmed.

Comments Stagg: And that was the first broadcast over 4G, with breaking news. That was where we saw 4G's potential; that it makes economic sense to use it as you don't need a truck.

However, Stagg adds: Since 4G was launched [it has been used by] sports broadcasters, breaking news, and outside broadcasts in areas where you couldn't get a satellite truck or where it wasn't commercially viable to send a satellite truck. So then you would bond lots of 4G into one of the bonding devices and you could combine that with many different technologies, almost to scrape enough bandwidth together to be able to create a mobile solution, but you were still reliant on the fact that it was a best effort' network, almost on a hope and a prayer that you didn't have lots of other people in the area doing other things on the network. 4G is one network for consumer, business; everything.

SVG Europe's Heather McLean taking part in BT Group's world first broadcast over 5G with remote production, speaking with BT Sport presenter, Matt Smith

Unexpected consequences of 5G

5G is the answer to those issues around 4G. When EE and BT Sport worked together to carry out the world's first remote production over 5G, for the Wembley Cup in November 2018, the production confirmed two unexpected consequences of using 5G; that it increased possibilities for remote working and therefore people's work-life balance, and also that it increased the creative options for the crew.

Stagg explains: Why 5G cameras? Remote production on its own has a huge advantage moving forward to how we do things now. It's not necessarily a cost thing; even if it was cost neutral, it would be still much better to do remote. It's the ability to have a work-life balance.

When one of our directors, Gemma [Knight], was asked at IBC when we did a demonstration of 5G remote production into our marquee what does [the use of 5G remote production] mean for her personally, she answered, I get to have breakfast with my son every day . I think that's very powerful in terms of the work-life balance, and especially where we are at the moment [with COVID-19]; it's already allowing us to rethink the way we do things. There is also the carbon footprint reduction that remote production provides us with.

He continues: For tier two or three sports, you can have a four camera production that looks like an eight camera production, because [5G cameras] are easy to move. The big things that came out of our initial trials - we began looking at remote production before 5G, on 4G - and I always love unintended consequences, was the creativity and flexibility it gave our directors to be able to send a camera wherever they wanted. To send it on the pitch where the players were warming up; to be able to do that with a tethered camera, even with a radio camera so it can move around is just not viable.

The first time we did it, our director said, We can just move them anywhere? , Yes , OK, so can you just drive it in a car and meet the team bus? . And that was the first really big, massive change in which mobile-connected cameras really changed the way things can be done. It is a big change, technically and culturally.

This creativity led to more unexpected results, says Stagg: It has always been seen that we would have 5G c
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