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In the days after the death of Queen Elizabeth II in Balmoral, Scotland, “unprecedented” was a word bandied about regarding the general reaction to the events leading up to her funeral, and such a description could also be applied to the use of 5G and satellite broadband technology in ensuring the TV broadcast of events to a global audience.
The initial stages of the funeral programme saw the invoking of Operation Unicorn, the codename of the plan for handling the monarch’s death if it occurred in Scotland. This included transporting the Queen’s coffin by air from Edinburgh Airport to RAF Northolt near London on 13 September, creating the need for a high-definition, broadcast-capable wireless solution that avoided the use of cables across the airport runway, while mitigating interference and guaranteeing quality of service.
In what it says is a world first for its industry, Glasgow-based outside broadcast specialist QTV deployed private 5G network technology to connect cameras used in the international broadcast coverage, which, due to the scale of the production in Scotland – and indeed the whole of the UK – technical resources were stretched beyond capacity, said QTV.
The private 5G network was designed and deployed by the University of Strathclyde and its spin-out company, Neutral Wireless, and developed through a series of proof-of-concept trials earlier in 2022.
QTV worked closely with national broadcasters to provide a world feed to TV channels globally, including content captured over the private 5G network.
“This small but significant site was left without any traditional RF systems for positions that could not be cabled,” said QTV CTO Gareth Gordon. “The situation demanded new and innovative technological thinking to achieve the expectations of the production.
“From the band of the Royal Regiment of Scotland to the RAF’s C-17 Globemaster taking off and carrying the Queen from Scotland for the last time, these were breathtaking live pictures broadcast globally from the airport tarmac. The video link on the 5G network wasn’t there as a back-up – it was a live feed to the world.”
The Neutral Wireless pop-up 5G SA network was deployed for QTV within 24 hours of the spectrum licence in the radio frequency band n77 (3.8-4.2GHz) being granted by UK broadcast and communications regulator Ofcom. The use of such a private 5G SA network at an airport is also believed to be a first.
The outside broadcast at Edinburgh Airport was also supported by Open Broadcast Systems and Zixi, with the former providing encoders and decoders, and the latter providing licences to use a software-defined video platform and protocol over 5G at short notice.
“The use of a dedicated 5G private network operating in shared spectrum licensed by Ofcom is believed to be a first for live TV news,” said Bob Stewart, head of the University of Strathclyde’s software-defined radio team. “A spectrum licence was granted in the n77 frequency band at Edinburgh Airport and the network was rapidly deployed on the tarmac beside the runway to provide connectivity for a wireless camera position. The network operated live and with no technical issues for nine hours.”
All broadcasters regard live events as being of extraordinary importance, with previously very high risk of failure. Coverage of the Queen’s funeral and the security associated with the event ruled out the use of live traditional vans and satellite trucks, yet for broadcaster France Télévisions, failure was avoided by using dedicated remote production systems running over the Starlink satellite broadband network.
With wireless communications a necessity, the combination of the TVU One solution from TVU Networks with SpaceX’s satellite connectivity service was deemed vital as the large gatherings of people completely saturate traditional cellular networks, which can lead to dropped calls and unusable live shots, and a battle for bandwidth between broadcasters.
The ability of TVU One to aggregate multiple separate signals into a single redundant stream was said to have freed France Télévisions users from cellular saturation and, said TVU, put an end to instability, the main cause of signal degradation in many live news situations.
Through its partner Magic Hour, TVU provided transmission packs allowing the routing of signals via Starlink as well as reception servers to increase the traffic needs of the France Télévisions news control room on the day of the funeral. France Télévisions was able to have continuous live broadcasts, control its production costs and cover the event from all editorially relevant locations.
“The TVU Networks/Starlink configuration has brought us to the crossroads of technology and history, creating the certainty of being able to serve our audience without fail and focus on the storytelling,” said Romuald Rat, news production director at France Télévisions. “It is impossible not to be very proud of what we accomplished.”