Five Reasons 5G Will Revolutionize Sports BroadcastingThe promotion of 5G wireless service is everywhere. It’s impossible to watch TV for any period of time and not see an ad. Ditto for other traditional and digital media aswell.
While there’s a good deal of hype around 5G (do I really care if I can download an HD movie in a couple of seconds?), there’s also many benefits fifth-generation wireless service will bring to consumers and businesses alike.
The business of sports broadcasting is no exception. Faster uploads, more bandwidth, lower latency and greater network availability are among the benefits 5G brings to sports production, benefits that could revolutionize sports broadcasting.
Reason 1: Fewer long cable runs
Sitting at home, in a stadium or at an arena, you’d never know there can be thousands and thousands of feet or even miles –in some instances—of copper or fiber optic cable used to transport video from cameras to the mobile production studio on wheels used to produce a game.
Not only is all of that cable heavy, which is an important consideration for production companies that must meet strict Department of Transportation weight restrictions for their trailers, but it must be properly deployed, inspected, connected, disconnected, gathered, stored and transported again for each new event.
There’s also maximum cable run lengths that varies depending on cable type, maintenance and expense associated with these less-than-glamorous but essential staples of sports production.
However, 5G changes this equation by offering a wireless contribution solution with more than enough bandwidth to handle HD and 4K signals, enabling IP video from broadcast cameras to be transported with ultra-low latency.
In June 2018, Fox Sports, Intel, Ericsson and AT&T conducted a 5G test of just this sort of application from the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills, N.Y. Rather than relying on fiber optic cable as is frequently used to move video from holes 1,000 feet or more to a production truck, Fox Sports relied on a 5G alternative to transport live 4Kvideo.
In a ZD Net article on the test, Michael Davies, Fox Sports SVP of Technical and FieldOperations, called the test a “tremendous start” in learning how 5G could reduce the use of fiber optic cable, microwave links and other signal transport solutions.
Reason 2: Primed for today and the future
As HD for live sports production gives way to 4K, and 4K to 8K (Japan plans 8K production of the 2021 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo, if they happen) and as high dynamic range (HDR), wide color gamut (WCG) and higher frame rates become more common, the amount of bandwidth needed to transport camera signals is only going up.
Fortunately, sports producers can look to 5G to keep them in the game when it comes to moving live 4K UHD video from camera to production control. In describing the Fox Sports setup, an Intel white paper points out that about 70Mbps connection speed is required to transport 4K UHD (60fps) compressed at productionquality.
This connection speed is well within the service parameters of 5G wireless deployments. A May 2020 article in Fierce Wireless says consumers can expect a 30% faster upload speed with 5G than 4G LTE –with a peak of 100Mbps. Further, testing by PCMag in Rhode Island in 2019 found peak upload speed to be 93Mbps, the same article reported.
Reason 3: Network availability
One of the main problems with using wireless networks to move video packets from cameras at sporting events and big gatherings like political conventions has been insufficient network availability.
With so many advertising dollars on the line, not to mention contractual obligations between teams and broadcast rights holders, there’s zero room for failing to get and maintain a wireless connection used for camera contribution. But when tens of thousands of people at the game are taking selfies and posting to their Facebook pages, getting the wireless connection and service required can be dicey.
Over the years, workarounds have been put in place to ensure video production crews are guaranteed the wireless bandwidth they need for their IP camera contributions. One of the most popular has been vendors setting up wireless hotspots at these events. Sports producers and other broadcasters contract with theservice provider before a game or convention in anticipation of heavy network traffic to ensure they have the connectivity and bandwidth needed.
In a 5G world, network slicing promises to address the issue head on by dividing a single network connection into multiple, separate virtual connections that are allocated for specific uses, such as broadcast camera contribution.
Network slicing will carve out a part of the 5G network devoted to this application so that a shot from the centerfield camera does not have to compete for network resources with fans posting to Instagram.
Reason 4: Less Frequency Coordination
A big part of preparing to cover any major sporting event is to ensure all of the bandwidth needed for live camera shots, wireless mics, IFBs, intercoms and backhaul to a teleport for national distribution is in place and that the users of that spectrum avoid interfering with one another.
Over the years, this effort has gotten harder because of a variety of reallocations of spectrum has knocked certain wireless devices out of their long-held channel assignments to satisfy new priorities and make room for new services.
Complicating things further at certain events is the frequency coordination needed to make sure the wireless devices of one broadcaster do not interfere with another. This task is so important that at large sporting events and political conventions a frequency coordinator is appointed and charged with being the traffic cop of the airwaves.
However, as 5G wireless networks begin to offer alternatives to microwave camera transmitters and even traditional wireless communications tools like wireless mics, intercoms, IFBs and in-ear monitors, the intensity of this task should wane as proprietary wireless contribution and communications solutions give way to 5G.
Reason 5: Cutting-Edge Enabler
While the main focus of sports broadcasters has been and will remain producing television coverage of games and events that interest the public, they are keenly aware that the way in which some fans engage with these productions is starting to change.
For example, Fox Sports worked with Facebook in mid-November to deliver virtual reality coverage of the Amilcar Vidal-Edward Ortiz Premier Boxing Champions fight for Oculus Quest wearers.
VR viewers were placed into a virtual amphitheater where they could watch the fight with their Oculus Quest headsets. Fox Sports shot the fight in 4K for the special VR production.
This is simply one of several experimental production treatments of live sports coverage, ranging from 360-degree camera coverage of the field to AR environments that are designed to enhance the way viewers experience a game.
While these approaches differ in many ways, the common thread tying them together is the need to move large amounts of data between sources and destinations. Here too, 5G will play a pivotal role by providing the large amount of bandwidth needed for contribution of high resolutions video sources with the ultra-low latency required.