The Olympic torch relay and 3G Bonding

The Olympic torch relay ran for 12 hours a day and lasted 70 days, BBC engineer Andy Reed was tasked with finding a way to broadcast the event live

BBC engineer Andy Reed has first-hand experience of meeting high expectations on a shoestring budget, but his greatest challenge came when he was tasked with finding a way to broadcast the Olympic torch relay live. The relay across the UK ran for 12 hours a day and lasted 70 days, so covering it required an innovative method to keep up with a constantly moving event.

Standard techniques like radio cameras were too limited in their range of movement, and other options such as radio links in helicopters - as used in the Tour de France - were way out of the budget for the project.

So 3G bonding was born. This involves taking a number of SIM cards and plugging them into a self-contained broadcasting unit. The sum of the multiple 3G connections creates enough bandwidth to send high quality video from location back to the studio. Andy and his team found that ten was generally the most effective quantity of SIM cards.

As the Olympic ‘torch cam’ was constantly on the move, the 3G signal was inevitably going to drop out at some point. The solution was to add a delay - or buffer - both at the torch cam van and back at Television Centre. On a similar note, Andy advises broadcasters using 3G bonding to send their pictures back to base at least 10 or 15 minutes before they will be needed, in order to have a margin for any troubleshooting needed.

With 3G bonding technology, broadcasters have to bear in mind that they will be sharing networks with the general public, and at a crowded event could be competing with thousands of people for 3G. As well as negotiating with networks to get the best tariff and service available. Andy also advocates using several SIMs on different networks as insurance against one network failing.