In large cities and studio settings, internet connections are wired, reliable, and fast. In many other locations, however, that may not be the case. Any broadcaster who works in the field is likely to encounter areas with negligible bandwidth. In those situations, streaming live presents some unique challenges.
These issues range from availability of power, battery charging, environmental factors like rain and wind, and so on. However, the biggest challenge in streaming live from the field relates to limited bandwidth.
So, what do you do when fast Ethernet isn’t available? Ultimately, the show must go on!
In this article, we’ll review some situations in which network availability may be a factor. Later, we’ll also suggest a number of solutions to the problem—from large to smaller-scale. Specifically, we’ll focus on cellular bonding to combine multiple mobile networks together into one robust internet connection. In particular, we’ll look at Teradek’s ShareLink technology. This network bonding service makes streaming live from remote locations more affordable and quite simple.
Streaming live in areas with poor network conditions
When streaming live, there are many situations in which network conditions and availability are not ideal. For example, cell network bandwidth may be saturated at sporting events. All professional arenas and stadiums will be wired with high-speed Ethernet networks.
However, smaller venues are often not wired. If you don’t have top-level media access, you may not be authorized to use wired networks. For certain sports (such as rally racing), much of the action takes place in remote areas. Outdoor events and other happenings in rural areas may also fall into this category.
Another factor looming over any large event is the possibility of saturated airwaves.
When too many people are trying to use the cell networks at the same time, speeds collapse and latency skyrockets. In these conditions, streaming live over cell networks is challenging or impossible.
Finally, a third situation that can necessitate creative network solutions is breaking news. Media journalists often need to visit remote sites at the drop of a hat to cover rapidly developing situations. This could include things like natural disasters as well. In those scenarios, network infrastructure may be powerless, overwhelmed, damaged, or even destroyed.
With that context in mind, let’s turn to consider some feasible solutions for streaming live in low bandwidth situations.
Solutions to the challenge of low bandwidth for streaming live
As we mention above, there are a number of ways to overcome these problems. Some are simpler and cheaper, while others are complex. Let’s look at a few commonly used methods to acquire network access when it’s otherwise unavailable.
Ethernet cable runs
Any single Ethernet cable is generally no more than 100 m (328 ft.) in length. Beyond that distance, signals will attenuate and degrade. However, you can install a piece of hardware called a repeater to extend the length of cable runs. With four repeaters, you can potentially stretch a Cat5 Ethernet cable to 2,800 m (9,168 ft.).
With that setup, your maximum transfer speeds will be limited to about 10 Mbps. Still, that’s enough for streaming live in high definition.
Perhaps the simplest solution for internet access in a remote area is to simply use a mobile hotspot. Depending on the strength of the local signal, this can be sufficient. Modern 4G LTE networks can exceed 5 Mbps upload speeds. That’s enough bandwidth for streaming live in HD, but not at true broadcast quality.
5G networks, on the other hand, will reach speeds of up to 1 Gbps for download. In addition, 5G networks have extra low latency. When 5G becomes more commonplace, live streaming from the field will become much easier.
However, mobile hotspots are stymied by mobile’s limited battery life and wildly fluctuating signal speeds. Overall, it’s a quick-fix solution that remains relatively unreliable.
In a previous blog post, we’ve referrered to using a satellite truck for streaming live as the “the nuclear option.” It’s overkill in most situations, but it’s sure to get the job done. Satellite trucks provide extremely fast internet connections from anywhere with sufficient sky coverage. They are also nearly uninterruptible. Only the worst weather conditions can temporarily block transmissions.
However, satellite trucks are also incredibly expensive. Renting one costs thousands of dollars, and renting access to a satellite adds several hundred dollars more per hour.
Cellular bonding/network bonding
The final alternative is a method known as cellular or network bonding. This method essentially uses dedicated hardware devices to combine multiple network connections into one faster, more robust connection.
These bonding devices can combine Ethernet connections, cell networks (both 3G and 4G LTE) via Wi-Fi hotspots, and USB cell network dongles. Typically, you mount the hardware device on top of your camera and connect it to the HDMI or SDI output. Connections then happen between the various networks. With this approach, you can deliver a reliable stream from areas with negligible internet connections.
The Teradek ShareLink
Next, let’s discuss one specific method of network bonding that we have found to be reliable: Teradek‘s ShareLink. ShareLink is a feature on the Teradek VidiU Pro. It helps to increase bandwidth availability if available connections are slow, or to increase redundancy if you have shaky connections. With ShareLink, you can stream live video in high quality from even the most remote locations.
The VidiU Pro is a small, shoe-mounted unit that contains both network bonding technology and an H.264 encoder. With a camera or cameras outputting to HDMI, the VidiU Pro, and a number of internet connections, you should be able to live stream from almost any location.
Teradek manufactures the VidiU Pro, along with a variety of other wireless video devices for remote capture, camera control, real-time monitoring, color correction, and webcasting.
ShareLink is a cloud service that allows users to combine many different network connections via a VidiU Pro. Essentially, ShareLink rents access to Teradek servers. Each network connected to your device sends a portion of your stream data to these servers. There, Teradek software stitches together video content from your disparate internet connections into a coherent stream. In addition, all of this happens automatically and without user input.
ShareLink is the first example of professional broadcast technology that is available to the public with a simplified setup at an affordable price. It’s much easier than the old approach, in which servers had to be manually configured to construct the original video stream.
ShareLink is priced via a monthly subscription. There are two plans available. The basic plan includes 50 GB of bandwidth per month. That equates to about 22 hours of live video in full HD (roughly 5.2 Mbps). This basic plan costs $19.90 per month.
Additionally, professional users can access the unlimited streaming plan for $49.90 per month. As the name implies, this plan has no bandwidth limitations. If you stream more than two three times per week, this is the plan for you.
Bonding networks with the VidiU Pro
Supported network interfaces include Ethernet, USB cell modems, Wi-Fi, and cell networks. ShareLink also supports “hot-swapping” of networks while streaming live. If one network goes down, you can continue broadcasting on your other sources while you get another one up and running.
Also, note that the VidiU Pro has two settings. The first setting is Client mode. In this mode, VidiU Pro can connect to a Wi-Fi network itself, but it can’t use iPhone cell connections.
The second setting is AP (Access Point) mode. In AP mode the device broadcasts a Wi-Fi signal. You can connect up to four iPhones (or cell enabled iPads) to this access point to share their bandwidth with VidiU Pro. Ideally, each phone should use a different carrier network to provide the best possible bandwidth.
In either mode, you can also use one supported USB modem and one Ethernet connection. With AP mode enabled, you can connect four iOS devices, a USB modem, and an Ethernet cable for a total of six network connections. The VidiU Pro will automatically deal with changing network conditions, delivering the best available quality at any given time.
Finally, ShareLink also has advantages over traditional cellular bonding methods. The latter of these approaches mostly uses USB modems, which require dedicated data plans. ShareLink is flexible, allowing you to use iPhones that are likely to be already readily available rather than dedicated hardware. However, you need to charge any iPhones with sufficient power and remain in-range of the VidiU Pro unit.
Streaming live with VidiU Pro: supported formats and specs
Below, let’s review a few of the basic specs of the VidiU Pro:
- Output video at up to 1920 x 1080 full HD
- 50 or 60 fps output for a 720 p50/p60 input
- Output bitrates up to 5 Mbps
- Supports Base/Main H.264 compression profiles
- Video scaler and deinterlacer included
- Audio encoded using AAC-LC
- Audio bit rates of 48 – 256 Kbps supported
- HDMI input for video and embedded audio
- Mic/line input
- Multi-camera support via Live:Air iPad production app
The VidiU Pro doesn’t support SDI inputs natively. However, you can use an adapter to make this possible.
The VidiU Pro features a small built-in battery for up to two hours of mobile streaming. In addition, it supports external power via a 6-18V DC plug. And battery adapters are available so you can use your camera batteries to power your VidiU Pro.
In addition to streaming, the VidiU Pro is also capable of recording to an SD card to ensure your footage is backed up.
Configuration and the ShareLink dashboard
The latest VidiU Pro model makes configuration much easier via a companion app called VidiU. Once you download and install this app from the iTunes store, you can connect to your device via Bluetooth.
One great feature of the VidiU Pro is the ability to monitor your network connections via an iOS app. This dashboard allows you to observe the speed of each internet connection at your disposal in real-time. It also displays info on latency, dropped frames, and other details about your stream.
Integrating ShareLink with an OVP
Since it’s designed for live streaming from the field, Teradek has strived to make it easy to connect the VidiU Pro encoder to your online video platform (OVP). The VidiU Pro integrates easily with partners like DaCast, Ooyala, UStream, and many others. Facebook and YouTube are also supported.
The RTMP transport protocol then delivers your streams from the ShareLink servers to your OVP. From there, you can distribute your live video to all your viewers in real-time.
The Cube 655TeraLink
If you’re looking for an upgrade from the VidiU Pro, Teradek’s Cube 655 provides a number of additional features. These include:
- Support for 3G-SDI connections
- Upgraded 802.11ac dual-band Wi-Fi support
- Bi-directional IFB
- iPad monitoring
- Color grading
The Cube 655 supports network bonding via TeraLink, which connects to the Teradek Core platform servers. This device and service allows you to manage IP video from multiple sources simultaneously.
Streaming live from uncontrolled locations can be like the wild wild west. Live streaming from remote locations with unreliable network connections are is even more demanding and challenging. However, with the correct equipment, it is possible to stream high-quality video from even the most remote locations.
Network bonding technology, like that incorporated in the Teradek VidiU Pro with ShareLink, allows users to stream live video by combining multiple negligible internet connections into one robust link. That way, you can stream HD-quality video from places you never would have thought possible.
As you can tell from this post, we’re really excited about network bonding as it allows for some amazing live streams. Sure, it’s a little more complex than streaming from a studio. However, the technology is becoming easier to use as it evolves and advances. Streaming on-the-go enables you to capture some incredible, once in a lifetime events.
What do you think about streaming live from remote locations? Have you tried any of these methods? Have you used VidiU Pro or a similar device? We’d love to hear about your experiences. Let us know in the comments, and we will get back to you! For more articles on related topics, you can check out the full Dacast blog archive. And for tips on streaming live video, you can also join our LinkedIn group.
Finally, if you’re not familiar with Dacast’s streaming solutions, you can take advantage of our 30-day free trial (no credit card required).
Thanks for reading, and good luck with your live streams.