Bonded Cellular Technology Follows Diverse Path

SEATTLE—In the last half-dozen years since the advent of sending TV news liveshots over cellular networks became a reality, the bonded cellular equipment providers have poured time and money into R&D to make theirs the go-to solution for broadcasters. And among their customers, the storm chasing news crews that are becoming staples of the news networks present some unique challenges to providing live signals in an environment that’s hostile to both personnel and equipment.

Dan Sørensen, marketing communications manager at TVU Networks in Mountain View, Calif., says the company’s TVUPack has a couple of unique features for such difficult conditions.

“One of them is called Inverse StatMux, where, rather than bonding all of the cellular connections together like most of the products do, we basically aggregate all of the available bandwidth so we can push through more in that, and it basically gives you a little bit better picture over the air,” Sørensen said.

The TVUPack also provides dual encoders, which allow it to not only feed the audio and video live via the cellular network system, but also record HD onto a hard drive in the backpack.

“Say the shooter is in the middle of nowhere, and for whatever reason the cell towers are down, and they have no connectivity, Sørensen said. “They continue shooting, drive two miles up the road, and all of a sudden they’re live again. The second the cellular connection is reestablished, the Store and Forward function will start to push that recorded video back to the studio.”

LiveU’s LU² is a modular solution that combines two LiveU units, boosting the uplink bandwidth by connecting an additional LiveU unit with a standard Ethernet cable.ALGORITHM ADVANCES
Weather is a major factor affecting cellular networks, but there’s also the heavy use of those networks for voice and data as crowds build around a breaking news story or sports venue.

LiveU has responded to this demand by investing heavily in algorithms in their systems over the past six years, according to Mike Savello, vice president of sales for the Hackensack, N.J.-based company. “As a result, we can handle a lot of the fluctuations that you get in the cellular networks, which are especially rough in storm circumstances,” he said. “We can deal with those fluctuations in a lot more intelligent way, and deliver a smart solution that results in better video quality.”

He also pointed to a considerable investment in RF technology. While many competitors tend to use off-the-shelf USB stick modems similar to the standard modems available from cell carriers, LiveU uses SIM cards from the carriers but not the USB stick modems. “Our solution is going to get you the ability to connect to a cell tower that’s further away, and then you have a much better chance of getting a signal out with that solution,” Savello said.

Long before bonded cellular technology hit the live news scene, microwave and satellite delivery was firmly established. Stations with large investments in infrastructure for those legacy technologies are looking to integrate bonded cellular as another tool in the ENG toolbox.

Dejero, in Kitchener, Ontario, has created the VSET, a vehicle-mounted bonded cellular unit for such customers. “VSET has external antennas, and with external antennas you have high gain,” said Bogdan Frusina, chief technology officer at Dejero. “Because we put them outside the vehicle, it does not have an issue with safety at all… and we’re able to amplify that signal quite a bit and get better coverage.”

Dejero’s LIVE+ VSET rackmount unit integrates the bonded cellular capabilities with a truck’s satellite and microwave systems. “It actually can bond the satellite and the cellular, and so it [provides a way around] the rain fade effect. The user doesn’t have to worry about it because our VSET system takes the satellite as another channel and it monitors all the time. If there’s any degradation of transmission or signal quality, it will pick it up in the cell bandwidth to make sure that it complements whatever bandwidth is required. And the opposite happens as well.”

Teradek’s bonded cellular system is built around the company’s economical and small CUBE H.264 encoder.SINGLE-MODEM SOLUTION
Latency, the delay between a liveshot coming in from the field and the anchors in the studio, is a maddening problem that sometimes makes a broadcast hard to watch. DSI RF Systems is striking back at that problem head-on.

“We realized that to get rid of latency, you can’t be bonding modems,” said Joe Giardina, CTO/CEO of DSI RF Systems in Somerset, N.J. He pointed to the need for processing time to divvy the data between multiple cellular modems, and reassemble the data in order at the receive end. “With Shark, we have a couple of differences with other folks. One is that we are a dedicated, single-modem solution.”

Though using a single cellular modem eliminates the latency inducing processing time, the challenge is to provide sufficient bandwidth to enable quality video and audio for the liveshot. “We use enterprise-level embedded modems instead of off-the-shelf, USB sticks that everybody can get for their computer,” Giardina said. “That allows use of more power to the single modem. And the Shark also sports an optimized antenna.

“Cell sites are Darwinian, and whoever gets in there with the best signal gets the best data rate,” Giardina continued. “So again, you and I can be sitting next to each other, [and you can have a USB stick modem-based bonded cellular system] and I can have a Shark on a camera with one modem, and I will get better throughput than you will, every single time.”

Bonded cellular is a technology that each station or network will use in a slightly different way, and even a single broadcaster will have several methods in which to deploy the technology. This calls for packaging the basic technology in diverse ways.

Teradek’s bonded cellular system is built around the company’s economical and small CUBE H.264 encoder, according to John Landman, vice president of sales for the Irvine, Calif.-based company. “Two years ago we released the first bonded cellular product, where we just mounted the cellular unit on top of the Cube.” With that as a point of departure, the company listened to its customers and potential customers about form-factor.

The result was self-contained units. “It’s slightly bigger than a single Cube, but it can have six modems plugged into it,” Landman said. “And we also added an A/B mount and a V-mount so the ENG guys could slap it on the back of their camera… it takes six modems. We also created a rackmount solution.”

Landman said Teradek also developed a back-end bonded cellular monitoring unit, called Sputnik, that can be run off a PC or out of the cloud. “I can see what’s happening with each of the modems, what their performance is. Which one’s giving me higher latency? Which one’s handling a higher bit rate?”

There’s definitely an ongoing race in the bonded cellular arena to see who can build the better mousetrap.