BBC To Test 4G And 4K UHD Broadcasts At Commonwealth Games

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BBC Commonwealth Games trials to see LTE eMBMS and IP networks used to discover new ways of transmitting content to TVs and smartphones

The BBC is to transmit some of the upcoming Commonwealth Games in Glasgow using LTE eMBMS (Evolved Multimedia Broadcast and Multicast Service) and in Ultra HD 4K as part of trials designed to test how technologies such as 4G and IP networks can be used for broadcasting.

eMBMS is the broadcast mode of LTE and is included in the current specifications for 4G. It is designed to provide mobile operators with a more efficient and cost effective method of transmitting content to large numbers of people on an LTE network.

It differs from unicast transmissions, which send content to an individual user rather than many users, and promises to maintain the same level of quality, even as the number of viewers increases, without requiring additional spectrum or capacity.

BBC Commonwealth Games 4G Trial

BBC World Cup 4K TrialThe BBC will provide content in MPEG-DASH format, which is sent over an IP link to a Huawei server located in EE’s test labs. This content is then converted into multicast format and sent to base stations, one of which is located in the Glasgow Science Centre, where a BBC R&D Future of Broadcasting exhibition is being held between 24 July and 3 August.

Visitors to the exhibition will be able to view both multicast and unicast transmissions on smartphones running an application designed by BBC R&D and supported by Qualcomm Snapdragon processors and broadcast middleware. This application can be connected to the iPlayer in order to support the integration of unicast on-demand streams with live broadcasts.

The network supporting these smartphones will be operating on 2.6GHz, which offers limited range but superior capacity, and in order to simulate real-life conditions, the network will be overloaded with traffic.

“Using eMBMS to deliver TV over 4G is an incredible demonstration of the capabilities of LTE,” says EE CTO Fotis Karonis. “The quality of the network that we’ve built with Huawei offers an amazing experience for consumers, and an amazing opportunity for broadcasters to more efficiently deliver their most popular content to multiple mobile users.”

BBC 4K trial over IP

The BBC will also be broadcasting parts of the Games in Ultra HD 4K over DTT and over IP networks, the first time a major live event is to be produced and distributed over IP.

This will be achieved using BBC R&D’s experimental IP Production Gallery, which it is hoped will make it cheaper and easier to broadcast live events, by centralising production facilities meaning that only a fraction of the staff have to be sent to the location.

Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games 1The technology allows on-the-ground operations to be increased at only a fraction of the manpower, potentially enabling new kinds of content.

“We may well look back at this trial as a watershed moment in the history of broadcasting,” newly appointed BBC CTO and current controller of R&D Matthew Postgate declares. “By proving for the first time that complex events can be created and delivered completely over IP technology, we’re opening up a world of possibilities to programme makers and the wider industry.”

The Commonwealth Games trial will help the BBC understand what it needs to broadcast a live production entirely over IP. The pictures will also be transmitted to the BBC Future Broadcasting exhibition and over DTT as part of an ongoing UHD trial with Arqiva, which also recently included the test transmissions of World Cup matches in 4K.

Future of broadcsting

The BBC says the workflow for its IP Production Gallery is not limited to any network or vendor, with fibre connections from the stadiums to R&D facilities in Glasgow and Salford provided by Virgin Media Business and connections from there to the Glasgow Science Centre supplied by Janet, with the network based on Cisco infrastructure.

The organisation recently conducted a trial of IP networks with Virgin Media Business during the recent local and European elections. HD pictures were sent over 100Mbps using the London Public Services Network (LondonPSN) and it is hoped that this could eventually free broadcasters from satellite trucks, which are often in short supply during breaking news events.

“Not only could BBC R&D’s vision for a new broadcasting system help producers create programmes more efficiently and cost-effectively, but it allows them to take advantage of data like never before, offering new editorial options and ways of improving the experience for audiences,” adds Postgate.

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