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Making history: Unbreakable backhaul connectivity for breaking news

Rob Waters, global sales director at Dejero, explains how the company built a private network with Starlink and cellular for backhaul

The goal of every news broadcaster is to break the story.

Sure, being the first on the scene is important, but being able to broadcast live on location is key. The problem is, that scene could be anywhere from an office block in a city centre or a remote mountain peak. 

For Queen Elizabeth II’s state funeral, that scene was a crowded Hyde Park in London, England. With a reported global total of 4.1 billion viewers, news events don’t get any bigger, so reliable connectivity was paramount.

With tens of thousands of people descending on Hyde Park to pay their respects, congested cellular networks were a huge challenge for newscasters. Demand for portable bandwidth can take wireless networks to the brink of capacity and wreak havoc for competing news broadcasters.

Creating a temporary private network and resilient back-haul connectivity was essential to overcome these challenges and ensure uninterrupted connectivity for broadcasters from around the globe to cover this sombre occasion.

These networks can be built three ways for acquisition in the field: 4G LTE/5G cellular, wireless mesh networks or point-to-point.

4G LTE and 5G networks

Creating 4G LTE and 5G private networks sounds straightforward. A single antenna would provide connectivity to field crews who have an accompanying SIM card in a mobile transmitter like the Dejero EnGo.

However, to access private frequency bands in a given area, companies must apply to the communications regulator (Ofcom in the UK) and go through a lengthy licence application process. While these can be booked in advance, that’s a luxury seldom afforded to breaking news. 

For the Queen’s funeral, band frequencies at Hyde Park needed to be booked weeks in advance. It’s possible that available bandwidth may already have been reserved by competing news channels, or that the frequency band isn’t even compatible with the transmission devices that your field crews are using.

4G LTE private networks can also be troublesome as there is no international standard and different countries allocate different bands to private network use. They use different technologies, radios and antennas, which can require tens of thousands of dollars worth of investment. Plus, many bands are already reserved by phone network providers. 

5G has more spectrum available for private networks and a broader common band for international use, meaning the same equipment can be used across borders. Operators still need national regulatory approval, but it makes 5G more affordable and efficient.

Wireless mesh networks 

Private mesh networks give production crews and camera operators the ability to roam freely around a defined location. They require the placement of battery-powered nodes to create a wider mesh which eliminates dead spots and signal dropouts, allowing news organisations to transmit live video without worrying about the possibility of cellular network congestion.

It is a workflow that Dejero has set up for its broadcasters before, notably in 2020 when its EnGo transmitters combined with Rajant’s Kinetic Mesh network technology for coverage of the U.S. presidential election in Washington, D.C., delivering both 5GHz and 2.4GHz Wi-Fi.

Broadcasters are going further with this concept across wider spaces, and Dejero is already looking at mesh networks for a golf tournament in Scotland next year.

Point to Point networks

At Hyde Park using 4G LTE/ 5G connectivity wasn’t an option; the broadcasters Dejero was supporting hadn’t reserved the band frequency for a private network and a weeks’ notice wasn’t enough time to apply for a licence. Using public cellular networks would have meant competing with thousands of cell phones in an already congested environment.

Time and cost limitations also meant that a mesh network wasn’t viable.

Instead, Dejero built a private point to point network which didn’t need regulatory approval. Still a complex endeavour but not impossible. 

Setting up an Ubiquiti access point and high-gain antennas across Hyde Park, Dejero created a secure LAN for its clients using their award-winning mobile transmitters. The EnGo products encoded the camera feeds and transmitted the signals, by blending a combination of ethernet, Wi-Fi and local cellular network connectivity; and prioritising the network with the most bandwidth available, to an onsite Dejero GateWay network aggregation solution for backhaul.

A world first: Starlink and Cellular backhaul

Regardless of whichever private network is used for acquisition, a reliable and robust backhaul is essential to transport content back to the station for distribution. With the eyes of the world on unfolding events, Dejero made history of its own to guarantee uptime.

Partnering with Starlink saw a combination of LEO satellite connectivity with cellular for backhaul using the Dejero GateWay. It was the first time live broadcasting has blended Starlink and cellular together for backhaul, and it meant that broadcast customers taking advantage of this innovative solution could go live to air from an area where cellular connectivity was already highly congested. The GateWay’s Smart Blending Technology also manages fluctuating latency by aggregating all available networks and, so the solution helped reduce some of the latency inherent in satellite-only connectivity.

The world’s appetite for news is insatiable and immediate, and news agencies are always looking to be first on the scene. Luckily, there are more options than ever to provide reliable and secure on location reporting, whatever the environment.