March 23, 2015

By: Jeff Chu, FastCo. Works HPE Matter

LiveU’s backpack-size technology is revolutionizing the production of live video by aggregating cellular bandwidth and turning it into a transmitting platform that can send a live feed to the studio.


At an Israeli-league soccer game in 2006, Avi Cohen started talking with a TV-news director friend about the cost and complexity of transmitting live events. The gas-guzzling satellite trucks parked outside every stadium cost thousands of dollars a day to run. “I told him there was a more efficient way to do this,” says Cohen. “More efficient and lower cost.” He just had to figure it out—and over the next year or so, he did, building a kit that replaced the trucks and satellites with backpack-size technology that exploited existing cellular networks.

Cohen, who had previously worked in R&D at Intel and Motorola, timed the launch of Israel-based LiveU perfectly. Consumption of content isn’t the only thing that has gone mobile. As the company’s rapid rise shows, mobile technology is disrupting production and transmission, too.

Cohen’s solution is known as “bonded cellular.” It aggregates cellular bandwidth and turns it into the platform for transmitting a live video feed to a production studio. Without the need for costly satellite access, live broadcasting is both cheaper and more accessible.

It’s easy to see the appeal of a LiveU kit. A satellite truck costs upwards of $3,000 per day to rent and operate. LiveU’s professional-grade LU500 wireless backpack costs $2,000 per month to lease. And it weighs about five pounds, including all accessories. The simpler LU200, which can be mounted to a camera or clipped to one’s belt, weighs just a pound and costs about half that.

LiveU’s first customer was Israel’s Channel 2. The technology’s big break came when two NBC News executives visiting Israel met with some local startups, including LiveU. They decided to test LiveU’s technology beginning in mid 2008. At that time, there were significant trade-offs between picture quality and speed of transmission; the highest-quality images needed about a minute to arrive at NBC’s production facilities. But the technology was nimble enough that producers deployed LiveU backpacks for coverage of Barack Obama’s inauguration (NBC was the only network to broadcast live aboard the then-president-elect’s train tour) and for live shots from the aftermath of the devastating L’Aquila earthquake in Italy in 2009.

LiveU’s technology has improved dramatically since then. It has introduced a powerful antenna that extends its backpack’s range far beyond that of a typical cell phone. And its appeal has been compounded by advances in the quality and reliability of the mobile networks it depends on. This also explains why the use of bonded-cellular backpacks has transformed local-TV news gathering. Cohen estimates that more than 90 percent of local stations in the United States now use some form of Internet Protocol–enabled backpack technology—and more than half are LiveU customers. (While LiveU remains the market leader, at least half a dozen other players offer variations on the technology.)

An affordable and convenient broadcast kit has also increased the viability of creating other live content. Pro sports teams use LiveU backpacks to broadcast footage from the practice field, and the technology has allowed the collegiate American Athletic Conference to offer online broadcasts of women’s basketball and track-and-field meets, which normally would go untelevised. In the South American nation of Suriname, an adventure-sports company called Tomahawk has used LiveU to produce a live fishing show from the Amazon.

Cohen and his team are still working to improve their technology, reducing latency while boosting stability and resolution. They’re also thinking about ways to extend the technology’s versatility to appeal well beyond traditional broadcasters and exploit the seemingly endless appetite for mobile video.

The scope of the opportunity is global, which Cohen realized in full force last summer, during the World Cup in Brazil. If you’d strolled the perimeter of each stadium, you would have seen backpack after LiveU backpack in action—reporters from at least 30 countries used them to beam live updates home. Whatever happened on the pitch, each report was a win for LiveU.

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Source: HPE Matter