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Live Streaming Over 4G

Dec 12, 2012 3:52 PM, By Jan Ozer

Three broadcasting setups to get you started.

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Streaming over 4G

While many of your clients are probably already streaming live from within their facility, you may be hearing questions about streaming from away games or during services performed outside of the facility. As 4G hotspots become more available and 4G prices keep dropping, truly mobile live event streaming is becoming a practical reality. How does 4G work and what products should you consider to implement it?

Building Blocks

As an overview, you need three basic components to stream live: a live encoder, a live streaming server, and transport from encoder to server. While your clients may be able to bolt 4G communications onto their existing streaming encoders, there are several compelling reasons not to as I’ll cover below. However, in most cases, they should be able to use their existing live streaming service provider.

4G is the fourth generation of cell phone mobile communications standards, which has a theoretical peak performance of 1Gbps from a fixed location (and 100Mbps from a moving platform such as a train or car). To connect via 4G you need a 4G-compatible device (like a mobile phone) or an external 4G modem, which typically connect to notebook computers and portable encoders via USB connections.

There are two deployed 4G technologies: Mobile WiMAX and Long Term Evolution (LTE), and performance will vary by service provider and location. In a ”3G/4G Performance Map: Data Speeds for AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon”, PC World tested AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon 4G in 13 cities and found a significant variation in upload performance, with Sprint and T-Mobile at the low end at .97Mbps and 1.32Mbps, respectively, compared to AT&T at 4.91Mbps and Verizon at 5.86Mbps.

These are average real-world numbers, and the AT&T and Verizon results are impressive. Remember, though, that 4G connects the 4G modem to the tower. While each 4G connection is separate and unique, simultaneous 4G connections share the bandwidth to and from the tower. The more connections, the lower the bandwidth for each. Fortunately, most 4G users are downloading data, rather than uploading it, so contention for upload bandwidth should be less than contention for download bandwidth, though variable by location or even time of day.

As a caveat, while 4G is becoming more widely available, it’s far from pervasive, so you shouldn’t assume that coverage will be available at all potential broadcast locations. Fortunately, most 4G service providers have maps where you can plug in an address or zip code and check availability. You can try out Verizon’s at

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