In a perfect world, every event that you live streamed would be located inside a building with fast, dedicated internet access and perfect protection from the weather.
Unfortunately, that’s not the reality. Live streaming often requires streaming outdoor events, which present a unique set of challenges, opportunities, and requirements. But outdoor events are also exciting, important, and lucrative to cover. Sports, parades, rallies, and more all take place under the sun (or rain, snow, or sleet!).
In this blog, we will examine the requirements for streaming outdoor events and share best practices for making sure that your stream is successful.
The Main Concern: Bandwidth
When you want to broadcast live events of any sort, a fast and reliable internet connection is required. Here at DaCast, we generally recommend a connection upload speed of no less than 2-5 Mbps (that’s Megabits, not Megabytes; 2-5 Megabits is equal to 0.25-0.625 Megabytes per second).
You can measure the speed of your current connection at www.testmy.net.
That’s a pretty tall order. Many modern cable internet connections aren’t able to reach those upload speeds (at least not consistently), and DSL is way too slow. Don’t even think about dial-up.
As for cell phone networks, the latest 4G LTE networks are able to reach upload speeds of 2-5 Mbps, but generally only in test scenarios. Real-world conditions tend to reduce speeds quite a bit, especially if a lot of people are using the network at the same time.
Getting Online, Outside
Keeping these speed limitations in mind, there are four main options for getting online and live streaming outdoor events. Let’s examine them one by one.
1. Run an Ethernet Cable
If there is a nearby business or institution with a fast internet connection, you may be able to use their network for live streaming. Since a hardwired connection will always be faster and more reliable than Wi-Fi (and thus, better for live streaming), this is a great option. It’s also cheap and easy to set up.
However, this isn’t practical in many locations. The maximum distance that you can run an Ethernet cable is around 300 feet.
Other possible issues include corporate or institutional firewalls that prevent one user from consuming too much bandwidth (a good reason to test your connection before the broadcast starts), access to the building during the event (is it during normal business hours?), and the danger of someone tripping on or accidentally damaging the cable.
2. Use a Cell Phone or Mobile Hot-Spot
In many cities and urban areas, 4G LTE networks are sometimes fast enough for use in live streaming. A cell phone or mobile hot spot is cheap, easy to set up, and probably already in your possession. You can’t beat this option for simplicity and ease of use.
However, the main drawback here is reliability. Can you cell phone’s battery last for a continuous 6-hour broadcast? (Consider a power brick.) The event that you’re live streaming will likely attract a crowd—if they’re all using their phones too, will the local cell network become congested and slow down?
There are other concerns too. A simple one is bandwidth: live streaming can rapidly suck it up, and overage charges (or worse yet, bandwidth throttling in the middle of your live event) can ruin your day.
3. Combine Cell Networks
One way to overcome the issues of cell network congestion would be to combine multiple cell provider networks into one superfast internet connection. It can be done, and it’s called cellular bonding.
Cellular bonding devices work by combining the speeds of multiple networks—including 2.5G, 3G, 4G LTE, Wi-Fi, WiMAX, and even Ethernet—into a single fast and reliable internet connection for broadcast purposes.
This creates a highly reliable, multiply-redundant system that should provide broadcast quality speeds even during major public events. These systems are used by many television stations for live broadcasting.
Some providers of bonding hardware include Mushroom Networks and Teradek. Their offerings generally require USB-based modems from your various cell providers. They may also include an H.264 encoder to compress your video footage in real time, and may also require a server at your home base location to ingest with software to reconnect your footage and send it to a CDN (some cellular bonding devices can transit directly to your CDN with not need for another server).
This one of the drawbacks of the system. First, you will need subscriptions to data plans from different cellular providers — at least 4, and in some cases up to 8. This can be expensive and time consuming to set up.
4. Satellite Truck
If you really need the highest quality and reliability, or need to broadcast in locations where cell networks simply don’t exist, the best way is through a satellite linkage. This is the nuclear option: it’s expensive and probably overkill, but it will get the job done.
Satellite trucks generally cost thousands of dollars per hour to rent, but provide excellent quality and are generally uninterruptible (although really terrible weather can briefly block transmissions). They can transmit on many different bands for redundancy, but you must have the budget.
You’ll also have to pay for satellite rental time, which goes for about $500 per hour or more.
Other Considerations for Streaming Outdoor Events
Bandwidth is the main issue for outdoor events, but not the only one. The second major consideration is weather. Wind can play havoc with audio recording, so any outdoor audio recording should include the morbidly named “dead kitties” (or windscreens) on all microphones.
Rain and other precipitation is also a major concern. B&H Photo Video stocks a wide range of rain covers for different types of cameras and other recording equipment. Make sure to use weather-resistant cabling for outdoor broadcasts.
Another major logistical challenge to outdoor recording is power, since you may not have access to electrical outlets. The solution here is batteries: lots and lots of batteries. For continuous live streaming, you may need a battery system that allows “hot swapping” without interrupting the stream.
Go Out and Do It!
Outdoor recording can be a challenge, but the results are worthwhile. With these tips, you should be a pro soon. Practice, and in no time you’ll have an outdoor live streaming system mastered. Good luck!