Technology

TV news industry awaits 4G telco services

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MUMBAI: Zip, zap, zoom - high speed! Don‘t most of us love it - especially when it concerns data transfer speeds? India‘s new TV broadcasters too eagerly await the rapid speed that comes with 4G LTE services. India‘s telecom landscape is going to undergo some drastic changes once 4G LTE starts spreading in more cities and starts gaining traction amongst users, courtesy licensees such as Reliance and Airtel and other telcos.

And amongst the customers who are just counting down the days to 4G‘s rapid uptake and spread are Indian news broadcasters. Reason: they are looking to use the data pipe to get the video footage to their studios and master control rooms, faster and cheaper, replacing clunky and very expensive outdoor broadcast (OB) vans.

In fact, what‘s heartening for the industry are reports that more than five news crews including the Beeb reported lived on the UEFA Championship using 4G LTE services on 15 May. In their case, they used Dutch based Mobile Viewpoint‘s 4G technology. Mobile Viewpoint is a subsidiary of Dutch company Triple IT focusing on the development of mobile video solutions for the security and broadcast industries. But there are others such as TVU Networks, SeekFit Technology, AVIWest, which are also offering solutions which entail a shift in live video acquisition away from the super expensive satellite transmission, delivering a cost effective cellular alternative that offers resilient broadcast quality video uplink while enhancing freedom of mobility in the field for TV news journalists.

Currently, most Indian news broadcasters are functioning on a combination of OB vans and 3G mobile technology. According to industry sources, 3G technology provides a bandwidth of around a maximum of 700 KBPS to one MBPS. Multiple sim data cards are clubbed together in a special 3G unit to stream live footage. It is estimated that compared to that 4G technology would enable a massive bandwidth of up to 2 MBPS.

Says leading Indian news broadcaster NDTV CTO Dinesh Singh: "4G technology would bring in better clarity as compared to OB vans and 3G technology. Currently, we at NDTV are functioning on a 50:50 ratio of OB vans and 3G mobile technology. 4G technology in India will be a welcome advancement."

What gives mobile technology an edge over traditional OB vans, is the cost effectiveness and the convenience it offers. Think about the parking constraints that news broadcasters have to deal with while transmitting live events in a bustling and congested city area through an OB van! With mobile technology, it is a matter of a convenient ‘backpack.‘

In terms of costs, mobile technology or digital mobile news gathering systems are way less heavy on the pocket as compared to OB vans. Explains Singh: "An OB van would require an investment of around Rs 6 million to Rs 8 million. On the other hand, establishing an infrastructure for mobile technology involves an investment of roughly Rs one million. The difference in costs is quite substantial and hence very attractive."

Apart from establishment costs, OB transmissions require access to satellite uplink bandwidth. This burns another hole in the broadcaster‘s pocket at an estimated Rs 5 million a year. Whereas, all one needs for 3G or 4G mobile technology is a couple of supportive mobile handsets and a good data packet plan which would cost a meager Rs 5,000- Rs10,000, says one of the broadcasters.

However, all is not hunky-dory as far as using 4G LTE services are concerned. �OB vans offer a success rate of 99.9 per cent as opposed to mobile technology which leaves scope for an error. In a competitive industry like news, there is no tolerance for an error," points out a media observer. �Mobile technology is ideal for news gathering and live streaming, however not entirely dependable."

Network18 CTO Piyush Gupta reasons: "We will all happily welcome 4G technology, if all the telecom providers sort out the loopholes. Many a times, the mobile towers get choked up because of congestion. While OB vans ensure us a dedicated bandwidth, that‘s not the case with mobile technology."

Network18 is currently functioning on 80 per cent OB vans and 20 per cent 3G technology. It uses mobile technology for gathering and relaying footage to its studios.

Besides, compatibility issues may also arise. "3G had high hopes pinned on it. The industry invested in special units which act as receivers and transmitters. And advanced 4G technology would imply advanced transmission units," Gupta adds.

Another area of concern is the need for pan India connectivity. TV Today Network general manager Amit Gemini points out: "Mobile technology is not consistent. The moment you go beyond the four metros, the connectivity gets bleak. It would be great only if we are assured pan India connectivity."

But a couple of aspects aside, 4G is the way ahead. "4G as a technology is very good for news gathering and distributing content. Currently television consumption is linear. With 4G coming in, the streaming of an entire show could take just a few minutes."

All in all, 4G may not entirely replace the good old OB van, but it will definitely revolutionise live broadcasting. Are TV news journos licking their chops?

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