LTE: Changing the Face
Richard Pattison - Sky
Good afternoon, my name is Richard Pattison and I am deputy head of News Technology at
Sky News has been delivering 24 hour news, constantly, for 25 years now but started from
fairly humble beginnings - a studio in a small industrial park in Osterley and 2 London-based
satellite trucks that delivered all of our live content outside of the studio. Today we are HD,
have 3 London studios, 24 sat trucks of one kind or another, 4 UK bureaus and 8 international
I’ve worked at Sky for nearly 7 years, starting in what was then a fledgling IP news operation
centre. I now lead a technology team with a very varied and interesting remit; everything from
fixing Kay Burley’s iPad to connecting the Sky Olympic studio, situated on top of the Westfield
shopping centre, to diverse network circuits and delivering 15 or so paths of HD video and a
number of IP-based services. But generally speaking News Technology is responsible for
delivering video over IP, as distinct from the more traditional video over satellite.
We make extensive use of fixed network circuits - all our bureaus, our studio in the Gherkin
and 15 or so plug-in points - Downing Street, Buckingham Palace etc are entirely IP-based.
And as you can see, TV is no where near as glamours as you might think… Baseband video
is encoded at source and sent across an IP network to be decoded back at base and put on
air. These circuits are more reliable and lower latency that satellite links and much cheaper
that the traditional facilities lines that we used to rent from the likes of BT.
However, news has a nasty habit of not happening in or around our convenient pre-installed
circuits, at which point they are of little use. So as late as 15 months ago the satellite truck
was still very much the king of news gathering. As long as the truck can see the bird, which
often comes down to some imaginative parking, it’s a very tried and tested method of
delivering quality video back to the studio. And this has largely been the status quo for the last
24 years or so. The only slight problem is, they can cost up to £1/2million to build and £30K a
year to run.
However, in late 2008, we took deliver of a box from an Israeli company called LiveU, which
looked a bit like this:
It’s basically a Windows PC, in a backpack, that runs a software video encoder. Up to that
point, its nothing to write home about, however what it also did was take the connectivity from
up to 7 3G data SIMs, on different cellular networks, and bond them together to give the video
encoder the most possible bandwidth across which to transmit. This was the start of
something different in the world of satellite news gathering.
It has to be said that we labored long and hard with these boxes. The available bandwidth
was often unreliable, which meant so was the video quality; so initially they were treated as a
novelty item and only used in situations where there simply were no other live options - that
way if the device failed, we hadn’t really lost anything. The problem was that these ‘last man
standing’ options tended to be in large crowds, where 3G quickly dried up or moving vehicles
- buses or trains being a particularly popular option; And as you can imagine putting a piece
of equipment that relies on good cellular connectivity in a fast moving metal tube is a
challenging use-case - I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to browse the internet on your phone
or laptop whilst traveling on the main line between Kings Cross and Newcastle but it’s not
great so you can imagine trying to stream video via a device that itself is moving between
mobile cells was usually problematic. So it was a bit of a vicious circle.
Here’s a sample of live from 2012, which is actually not that bad, all things considered, but
you can see that the video quality is not great.
In the spring of 2012 we managed to secure a couple of SIMs on to the O2 4G test network in
It wasn’t ideal for our purposes as we couldn’t really test anything without traipsing into town
and coverage was patchy. I believe there was a cafe on Baker Street that had fantastic
coverage but when we tried to stream video from various places in Soho the results were
However, in late 2012, the EE 4G network went live and we tried again. This time the results
were amazing. What I’m going to show you next is a couple of clips from a drive we took in
January of 2013.
We cobbled together a wireless ethernet port, using a single EE 4G SIM, a USB dongle and a
mobile router. We plugged a standard IP encoder, no clever stuff like variable bit rate, into
our wireless ethernet port, connected a camera to the iP encoder, stuck it in a transit van and
drove through central London, streaming live HD video back to the studio through out.
This is sort of sums up how we felt as we watched the live video:
This particular bit of the video was quite exciting to us, our expectations were fairly poor after
our earlier O2 experience, but as we watched our experiment drive straight through the Hyde
Park Corner underpass, it was clear that we had something a bit more robust to utilize now.
Infuriatingly, our next problem was getting ahold of the goods. EE sales advisors seemed
determined not to sell us a data plan any bigger than 20GB. Based on the upload speeds we
were experiencing, 20GB might only equate to 5 or 6 hours of live video per month.
We tried tweeting @EE but without much success.
In the end my colleague emailed EE’s CEO, Olaf Swantee.
We got a reply later that day and before the end of the week Daniel Upson, from EE’s
Lighthouse team had been to visit us at our studio to discuss our requirements. Probably not
a bad bit of business as Daniel went on to secure BSkyB’s corporate mobile contract earlier
And not long after that we had half a TB of 4G data ready to go!
Around the same time, early 2013, we were also testing the next generation in cellular
bonding units, the DMNG Pro 180, manufactured by a French company called Aviwest.
At a cost of £12K it has 8 cellular modems built in, 4 of which are 4G. It can encode video at
6Mbps, with overhead, that equates to about 3.5GB of data per hour of live video. It proved
very successful in Beijing, where Mark Stone and Andy Portch from our Beijing bureau had
used it with only 3G SIMs, giving them live capability that we’d never had outside of the
I’d like to play you a few clips from a video Mark and Andy filmed for us last year as part of a
successful bid to raise some Capex to spend on new toys.
Having seen how well the Aviwest had worked in Beijing on only 3G, we couldn’t wait to get
some Aviwest units in the UK to use with the new EE 4G network. And by February 2013 we
had taken delivery of our 2 UK units. The first real test was Margret Thatcher’s funeral, where
we delivered a pool feed, i.e. a video feed that was shared between ITN, BBC and Sky, from
outside mansion house, where the wake was being held. It seemed slightly ironic that the
camera on the left was streaming live HD video and the camera on the right was recording to
tape, which was later picked up by a motor bike courier to take back to the ITN studio.
With 2 EE 4G SIMs on board, the Aviwest streamed stable live HD video for 3 hours and
somewhat annoyingly, the BBC did the first live two way, via the Aviwest.
The Aviwest has gone on to prove extremely effective, we now have 11 units spread around
the world, in the UK, Beijing, South Africa and Rio. Now loaded with 4G connectivity from EE,
O2, Vodafone and 3 in the UK, these units are seriously effective bits of kit, capable of
delivering over 60Mbps of real upload speeds. A good example of how far these devices
have come and how effective LTE networks are proving, is Southwark Crown Court.
Surrounded by tall buildings and with very restricted parking, it can be very difficult to position
a satellite truck somewhere it can hit the bird, and we don’t have an existing IP wall box at the
location. But, as the Operation Yewtree hearings proceed, it’s the location for some of our
biggest stories this year and we have been using an Aviwest and bonded 4G to deliver live
video from Southwark.
You’ll notice in this clip of Max Clifford entering the court that the media presence is huge -
other bonded cellular units, snappers uploading photos etc. In the past this kind of media
scrum would have killed a bonded 3G unit stone dead, but you can see from the quality of the
pictures that the LTE networks are holding up well.
Co-incidentally, we now have 24 cellular bonding devices, exactly the same number as we
have sat trucks.
Another significant development in news gathering that has become a practical reality with the
arrival of LTE bandwidth is the use of smartphones and apps to deliver quality live video. The
Dejero Live+ app can be live on air in around 30 seconds, bond available cellular and WiFi
connectivity, deliver excellent quality live video (for a phone) as well as studio comms to the
user in the field.
We currently have 200 licensed Dejero apps distributed amongst our news gathering staff and
it allows them, with little more equipment than an iPhone and a pair of headphones, to report
live on any situation they happen to come across.
Some of our reporters have taken it upon themselves to develop their own little kits to make
the iPhone an even more viable option for news gathering. This is reporter, Harriet Hadfields
The following are a couple of examples from one of our main exponents of mobile journalism,
Nick Martin. Both achieved with just an iPhone and an app.
On Sunday night, as part of our Euro Election programming we took mobile journalism to the
next level and delivered 11 simultaneous live feeds, using iPhones and iPads, from the 11
election counts around the country, achieving a breadth of live coverage that we would not
have been possible without LTE, or spending a significant amount of money on deploying
multiple sat trucks.
It’s beyond doubt that the LTE networks available in the UK, and other countries, today have
far superior real live throughput to their 3G predecessors; and it is my understanding that the
backhaul behind these networks is also significantly improved. But will the impact of Moore’s
Law on available technology, i.e. it becomes twice as capable every 2 years, and the advent
of 4K video, which requires 4 times the data rate of plain old HD video, will these LTE
networks be able to continue deliver the bandwidth to which we are starting to rely on, or will
they too start to become congested?
Here’s some shots of the media scrum outside St Mary’s hospital the day Prince George was
born. If, in 2 years time, all these media outlets are broadcasting HD video, uploading
photographs and remotely connecting to studio systems will the existing LTE infrastructure be
able to cope?
We’ve had little evidence to demonstrate that this is likely to be an immediate issue but we
are pursuing the possibility of using Quality of Service capabilities within LTE networks to
prioritize our video traffic over more general public traffic. Obviously there will be a cost
associated with this but given the cost effectiveness of LTE data, compared to satellite
airtime, this is unlikely to be a significant factor.
Thank you, that is the end of my presentation.