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A Day in the Lakes: Filming with 5G in extreme and challenging locations

  • 6 minute read
  • Published by Crispin Moller on 14 Mar 2022
  • Last modified 14 Mar 2022
What happens when you bring together a television production company, 5G technology developers, mountain safety experts and one of the toughest triathlons in the world?

As part of the  5G Testbeds and Trials Programme, the Live and Wild 5G project aims to explore the use of 5G connectivity in extreme and challenging locations to help filmmakers deliver live and fast turnaround video content. By live-streaming footage from extremely remote locations and bringing 5G to places where there is poor connectivity, the project is putting new technology to the test by exploring how high standard footage for TV and film can be live-streamed from some of the UK's most challenging terrains as well as having the potential to transfer footage directly from the location to the edit.  If successful, this could be a game-changer for the UK film industry. 

As part of the project, the Live and Wild team are running five events to test 5G. This blog will focus on the Helvellyn Triathlon in the Lake District. 

Competitors swim the crystal clear Ullswater, cycle the infamous “Struggle” to the top of the Kirkstone Pass (1489ft); and run up Helvellyn Mountain (3118ft), making the event a real and challenging filming scenario.

The objective was to test the capabilities of live streaming footage from a sporting event in a variety of challenging rural terrains within the race’s tight timescales. Project partner, aql, delivered 5G services to support some of the live broadcasting through the mobile base station.

Geography and Location

The main challenge was geography. Currently, in rural areas where the network is more likely to be poor means, it will be difficult to live stream. And with so few masts present in these locations, how do you broadcast live stream over such vast distances terrain, without the need of employing hundreds of people and having huge outside broadcasting? Led by Candour Productions, aql who are communications specialists, and MTN Safety, collaboratively worked with the Live and Wild project to complete a successful live trial to prove that live streaming from multiple cameras over 5G connectivity could be possible when filming live in a rural environment and successfully stream rushes back to base.

Location was key in the planning and set-up of the trial. The race HQ was a field in Glenridding right beside Ullswater. This is also known as the transition area where competitors changeover their kit between the swim-cycle-run stages. Meanwhile, the production team were based at various vantage points of the triathlon racecourse during the day.

A lot of planning was involved to make this possible in advance of the event. This included ‘recceing’ locations in advance to determine existing 3G/4G network coverage that the camera and LiveU units could connect to, running a number of speed tests, and checking the stability of connection back to the mobile core before going live.  

Filming over a large area, or in multiple locations, relies on moving the base station (which is time-consuming) or relying on existing 3G/4G coverage for sections of filming. Instead, the project took their own mast, (or in other words, a Land Rover with a base station attached). It was important to ensure the mobile mast was steady and robust for stable connectivity. As a result, the setup required the whole team to communicate both on-site and at the base which was at Ullswater Steamers car park - (the triathlon HQ and transition area) and took an hour. 

MAKING OF FINAL pic 5

Environment 

Helvellyn Mountain is 950 metres or 3,118 ft high. It’s the 3rd highest peak in Britain and from the top, you get 360-degree views. On a good day as far as the Isle of Man and the Scottish borders. There has been a poor mobile signal in many parts of the Lake District for many years.  This is because the dramatic terrains act as a filter slicing up the signal. Because of this, taking into consideration local demand on existing networks, especially at large events, required having a backup plan. 

To overcome the problem of limited options of the existing 3G/4G network and LEO, positioning the base station with access to a router to add additional backup options for network draw was key, as well as to provide a safety net in case of mobile network failure.

Depending on the length of the live stream, and if the generator proved to be unreliable, positioning the base station with access to main power, or having a second generator available in case of generator failure, would have ensured the live stream could go ahead.

Coverage 

Live and Wild succeeded in live streaming the entire event - a total of nearly 8 hours of live footage, except an approximate 3 minute drop out - using 4G broadband backhaul, facilitated by aql, in the transition area which covered the start of the race, the swim stage, transitions and finish. A mini LiveU unit worn on the back by a cyclist captured live coverage for the cycling stage of the race from a bike-mounted GoPro camera.  The production team had previously recced the route and created a signal map identifying the sections of the race route where there was enough 4G coverage to live stream the cycle and run stages successfully.

For the cycle and run stage Live and Wild relied on existing 4G/3G coverage, as there wasn’t time for the base station to relocate and the camera operators had to keep up with the race! This enabled the project to experiment and live stream using lower-end tech, such as smartphones and GoPro cameras rigged to bikes and competitors, as well as lightweight professional cameras and telephoto lenses stationed at vantage points. 

Next steps 

The Live and Wild project is pushing the boundaries in the creative sector using 5G to record live footage for film and TV in rural environments through overcoming long-standing rural areas connectivity barriers. This includes limited existing network coverage due to geography and population and exploring options for backup positions with mains/router access. 

Detailed prior prep work in advance of the event was involved to make the trial possible and successful. This could be a groundbreaking change for the film industry as could lead to significant changes to filming in rural areas where there is little or no connectivity.

The Live and Wild project has made a ‘Making Of’ film which documents the behind the scenes of the testing at Helvellyn and a documentary which focuses on the very moving personal stories of two of the competitors. 

The project is now preparing to film two more challenging events:

  • Night Sky Live with 5G - (9 Feb 2022) Can 5G aid academic research by enabling universities to remote access instruments based at the Observatory and access high quality live feed from digital astronomy?
  • Sea Kayaking Live with 5G - (28 Feb 2022) How reliable is 5G when live streaming out at sea?  
    Test 5G live feed from multi-rig of action cameras connected to kayak out at sea.

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