The Real World Cup Champion: Cellmux Technology

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Not being a football fan, the only thing I got out of the World Cup was to follow what the broadcasters were doing as they built up to the largest predictable live broadcast media event on the global calendar.

Over the years I have been close to teams who have handled the master rights distributions over satellite and fibre, to the DTH and DTT broadcast delivery networks, and—most importantly for this audience—to the online distributors as, over the past two World Cups, we have seen the emergence of online and streaming content distribution deals.

I expressed my own concerns in these pages at the start of 2014 that Brazil had not, at that time, built an adequate infrastructure, particularly with regard to the cellular and mobile backhaul at the event stadia.

It would be egotistical to suggest that my comments, and those of a couple of others that appeared around the same time, actually influenced the strategy and planning of those networks, but the great news is that by the time the first boot met the first ball, the communications links were working.

"Most of the 4G networks around stadiums installed at the last moment allowed our clients to enjoy an unsaturated 4G network, allowing them to substitute some of their satellite operation," says  Deborah Gillet of AVIWEST, maker of the DNMG cellmux systems.

And that in no small part led to a widespread and transformative success for the various cellmux vendors that had large numbers of cellular bonding video links deployed everywhere from pitch-side to boardroom and from dressing room to crowd. As also confirmed by the BBC News, Thomson Reuters. and SKY News at Streaming Forum last month, without a doubt cellular video multiplexing is fast becoming the central resource for both live outside broadcast news and sports gathering.

It only feels like a few weeks ago I was writing to "introduce" this technology to new users, and already it feels that this niche is reaching maturity, despite emerging in a serious commercial way only three or four years ago.

I mentioned this to Dan Sorenson, marketing and communications manager of TVU Networks, and his reply was telling. "This is not news to us, or I am sure others in the sector," he says. "We have known firsthand from our clients for a little while now that this technology is fast becoming the front line tool of choice.”

To further illustrate the point, I reached out to gather some statistics from AVIWEST, TVU, and LiveU to understand the scale of the deployments at the World Cup.

Across just these three vendors there was an incredible amount of deployment active over the course of the event.

AVIWEST had some 50 units deployed across 30 broadcasters, TVUNetworks had "dozens" of units in deployment, and LiveU counted more than 200 units active in the peak weeks.

TVU Networks reported "transmitting over Brazilian 3G/4G networks, with the TVUPack, Sky News Arabia has delivered live shots in HD back to the production facility in Dubai at two seconds latency."  This type of performance is difficult to manage even with established traditional satellite SCPC type connectivity.

LiveU were rightly excited by their statistic that "98% of the broadcasts were live to air." While the "unpredictable" nature of the internet has sometimes meant that cellmux has found a planned place as a store-and-forward device enabling a pre-recorded file to be delivered quickly to the playout, obviously their key ability to deliver a live linear signal has proven that the over provisioning of best-effort cellular IP can and does work in practice reliably enough that the majority of broadcasts are actually live, despite the perceived risk of signal failure.

And to sum this up, AVIWEST clients reports that their lightweight product performed "beyond their hope thanks to its robust design and video quality."

The cellmux has come of age. This will both enable more and deeper front line journalists and probably disrupt the satellite newsgathering (SNG) sector fairly rapidly along the way.

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