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Cellmux Antennae: Does Size Really Matter?
With great power -- and a 247-foot antenna -- comes great responsibility. Presenting one possible future in the cellmux antenna arms race.

In the world of cellular video multiplexers (“cellmuxes”), there has traditionally been a need to compare the length of one’s antenna with that of one’s competitors.

Recently, two vendors decided to get off the fence and declare strategic value in chasing what turned out to diametrically opposing views on the size issue.

One of these companies -- since this is science fiction, we shall have leave names out -- decided to turn its focus to the ancient antenna-monger’s art: namely, mastery of the “my antenna is bigger than yours” positioning. With these stem-cell-cloned and steroid-enhanced, high-gain, amplify-while-you-transmit antennas boosting cellular uplink capabilities, the outside broadcast business landscape could change forever.

These latest antennae did more than just increase the cellmux’s ability to reach a wider range of local cell masts. These super-antennae could use the neighbouring countries’ cellular infrastructures, providing ultimate resilience. There was even word that Vint Cerf himself was engaged in deploying channel-bonded cellular IPP (interplanetary network protocol) so that you could bond not only the cellular infrastructure on your local planet, but you could dual-home (or even multihome) onto multiple planetary infrastructures across solar systems. This, it was argued, would make the channel-bonded transmission resilient to political or even genetic changes in the ownership of the infrastructures over time -- and thus offered the highest possible “availability” to those cellmux users who simply couldn’t lose a frame of video.

The longest of these super antennae was called “the Beast.” Essentially the antenna extended a full 247 feet, but it was made of an incredibly light carbon fibre. Once the signal was up, the operator could typically find 30Mbps to 60Mbps when on low bandwidth 3G, bonding some 400 modems together into a single IP stack with around 100ms latency.

But with the giant Beast came great responsibility.

All too often, operators became careless when filming near power lines and airports; one viral video showed a cellmux operator with a Beast antenna inadvertently catching the landing gear of a departing aircraft. The screams of the operator (dangling from the antenna on his backpack tangled with the Boeing’s undercarriage) last a full minute in a horrifying reminder of the dangers inherent in shooting with a 247-foot pole strapped to you.

The other vendor took a different approach. Its target was more about dynamic flexibility and use, so its engineers had decided to investigate antenna-less cellmux.

After several small explosions, a lot of lost signals, and one case where a superheated transmitter was left on the deck of a plastic boat, melting a hole and sinking the production crew, the vendor finally released the catchily named MCWNAr418WSHIWTT. The acronym apparently stands for “Miniature Cellmux With No Antenna release 418 We Sure Hope It Works This Time.”

The device was developed to be about the size of a box of matches. It contained sockets for an amazing 46 cellular SIMs and had an on button, Wi-Fi, and ethernet. It was otherwise broadly unconfigurable. The remote demuxer end had a red button, which when pressed flashed until it locked onto the MCWNAr418WSHIWTT and then produced the “best quality” video on an SDI output. No fuss. Just that.

The only thing was -- it wasn’t really a “No Antenna” solution -- its solution was to engineer a small induction circuit that was surgically embedded in the operator’s wrist. The cellmux connected directly to the operator, and the operator’s own body was then used as the antenna.

The claims made in the product launch were interesting:

  • “Our antenna’s radiation emanates from the operator, so it cannot harm the operator, only those around them.”
  • “Our antenna is flexible, waterproof, and self-healing.”

Not surprisingly, the national advertising standards board has insisted that these claims be moderated in future promotional material.

This article appeared in the autumn 2013 Streaming Media European Edition as "Size Matters."