CP Communications, a leader in innovative solutions and services for complex live event productions, and its just-launched Red House Streaming business unit took to the streets of New York City on November 4 to manage end-to-end content acquisition for the TCS New York City Marathon. The crew achieved 100 percent video and audio coverage of the men’s and women’s races across all five boroughs, unleashing a comprehensive IP and bonded cellular network across the 26.2-mile race course for the first time.
The IP content acquisition strategy utilized four Smart® cars, four motorcycles, and other special motorized systems (including two POV wheelchairs) outfitted with cameras and Mobile Viewpoint bonded cellular solutions. These were all networked for transport to CP Communications’ flagship HD-21 RF truck. All signals were received and processed on HD-21 before being passed to the NEP ESU broadcast trucks at the finish line, which produced world feed uplinks as well as local and national television feeds.
Now in its 48th year, the TCS New York City Marathon is considered the largest marathon in the world, with more than 50,000 participants in this year’s race. Starting in Staten Island, the racers wound their way through Brooklyn, Queens and The Bronx before finishing in Manhattan at the southern edge of Central Park.
According to CP Communications CEO Kurt Heitmann, his team took into consideration areas with cellular coverage challenges along the course, particularly where large spectator crowds could potentially overtax cellular networks. In addition to areas near the crowded starting line, cellular coverage was expected to be challenging along the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge heading into Brooklyn. These required careful attention to ensure no video and audio signals were lost.
“The core of our operation comprised three main sites; at the starting line in Bay Ridge, near the Millennium Hotel in Manhattan and at the finish line. In addition, we had three highly robust unilateral IP streaming sites in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Manhattan. We utilized nearly 600 unique IP addresses from Brooklyn through the Bronx coupled with a MIMO mesh network across the Verrazano Bridge to backfeed internet to our Smart® cars and deliver intercom as well as other services,” said Heitmann. “We added COFDM traditional microwave receivers to get the coverage we needed off of the bridge, due to the limited cellular coverage, and deployed COFDM near the finish line for the same reason. That safeguarded our operation for the first and last mile of the race, in the event that limited cellular coverage caused the signals to drop.”
“We were extremely pleased that the strength of the network architecture allowed us to stay purely in IP through to the finish line after crossing the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge,” he continued. “In the end, we carried bi-directional video and bi-directional audio from 11 cameras and 240 intercom ports over IP and bonded cellular, with Mobile Viewpoint solutions providing the robust compression we needed to optimize bandwidth and deliver exceptional video quality. This was a first for the New York Marathon, and a big step up from our past coverage strategies.”
A New Dawn with IP Networking
Previous marathon coverage relied almost exclusively on traditional RF (COFDM) topologies, though CP Communications introduced its first IP-enabled Smart® car as part of the 2017 events. Following NYPD approval, Heitmann and his team elected to build three additional custom Smart® cars, enabling them to use IP transport and bonded cellular networking for content acquisition and streaming in most areas between the start and finish lines.
Each custom car provided DC power distribution from marine deep cell batteries tied to the vehicle’s alternator, feeding CondorCam 1080p stabilized camera rigs, a Silvus MIMO mesh network node, and Mobile Viewpoint Agile Airlink bonded cellular devices. A core technology in the Red House Streaming solutions portfolio, the MVP Agile Airlink devices combine H.265 (HEVC) video encoding with patented bonding technology to reliably transmit video over bonded IP connections at the highest possible quality, while using the lowest amount of bandwidth.
In addition to backfeeding internet services to the custom cars, the 5.2 Gb/s MIMO mesh network provided redundancy for a Unity Intercom system, providing support communications between the CP truck engineers, field technicians, journalists and race participants. Antennas were installed on top of each car to strengthen signal carriage. The rooftop array for each car included COFDM and mesh network antennas, as well as carrier “fins” from AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon. The fins strengthened carrier aggregation for improved cellular coverage.
Not only did the CP team utilize IP technologies out on the course, but their new Red House Streaming unit delivered at “at-home” live stream of 14 video sources – a first for the NYC Marathon. Video services were complemented by a Dante® audio network and an RTS RVON® communications network from the start line to the broadcast center, allowing the production team to produce the entire show from the NEP broadcast truck.
The move away from traditional RF and toward IP and bonded cellular simplified the city-wide setup process for event coverage. By utilizing Unity Connect and Sonim XP8 smartphones the team was able to eliminate the traditional city-wide UHF system. All 85 phones communicated with Mac servers based at the finish line, with all configuration and adjustments able to be made “over the air”. The Unity application provides the flexibility to give each user an individual profile and the ability to create and address group settings. CP also utilized Unity for two wireless commentators who traveled along the course in the custom CP Smart® cars.
“RF frequencies are increasingly difficult to come by in crowded metropolitan areas, and shifting from frequency coordination to wireless IP coordination changes the entire game,” said Heitmann. “There is some complicated work mapping out IP addresses and gateways early in the engineering phase, but we eliminated rooftop positions around the city as well as the enormous manpower and equipment that comes with that job. We have shifted to software, the public internet, Wi-Fi based IP transport. The technology is leaps and bounds beyond where it was five years ago, and it’s changing the way we manage content acquisition for the event producers and host broadcasters we partner with.”