A slice fit for a King; how the British King's Coronation was broadcast using 5G and network slicing
A moment in history
It was an overcast and rainy day in June 1953 when a young Elizabeth II, just 25 years old at the time, succeeded her late father as Queen of the United Kingdom. Taking place at Westminster Abbey in London, where since the 11th century the historic ceremony has taken place, millions of people watched and listened to the remarkable event unfold from around the world.
It was a similarly drizzly day over seven decades later when the time came for her son Charles III to succeed the throne and become King, in that same Abbey where his mother stood, as the world once again watched on.
While Charles automatically acceded the throne following his mother’s passing on September 8th 2022, it was on May 6th 2023 at Westminster Abbey where Charles and Camilla were officially coronated as King and Queen of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth realms.
The Coronation Service was attended by a congregation of more than 2,200 people from 203 countries, including approximately 100 Heads of State, alongside various community and charity figures. Large crowds flocked the streets of London to celebrate the historic event, whilst the live broadcast made it possible for millions across the globe to share in the momentous occasion.
Broadcasting the Royal Coronation
Broadcasting a Royal Coronation to a worldwide audience comes with high expectations and zero room for error. UK media production and broadcaster ITN partnered with Vodafone for the task of broadcasting and live streaming the event.
The two parties faced significant and unprecedented challenges going into this project. The first was ensuring a flawless broadcast feed for the millions of viewers who would be tuning in to watch the event remotely. The second lied with the high concentration of mobile activity from the large number of attendees in Westminster and the gathering crowds - spectators’ expectations to document and share the event with family and friends would need to be met!
Preparations began with a clear, immovable deadline, as well as exceptionally high stakes and expectations. Nothing could go wrong.
No room for error
Previously, a private network would have been required to set up broadcasting and provide the necessary connectivity services. However, the partners instead opted to use a type of logical network, known as “slice,” which was built on top of Vodafone’s public mobile network. This was made possible by the advanced network slicing capabilities of Ericsson’s 5G standalone (SA) RAN and Core solutions that power Vodafone’s network. The Coronation was a bold opportunity for the companies to demonstrate the potential of 5G SA and network slicing technologies to deliver a high-performing, ultra-reliable experience to their customers.
“When starting the preparations to support Vodafone with the live broadcasting, the main challenges were to set a test environment to ensure high quality, flawless video broadcasting which would meet the needs of such an important event as the Coronation. Proof of concept was made at Coventry University, followed by rigorous testing in Paddington Station during rush-hours. Since we had to ensure high quality and low latency, this testing environment was strategically chosen to simulate an isolated and dense environment where many mobile users are using different services in the same area,” explains Rohit Sengupta, Client Sales Lead for Vodafone and responsible for 5G Core solutions in Ericsson UK.
“The Coronation was not the time for trial and errors. On the day of the Coronation, between 9:00 and 15:00 we had outdoor cameras and one camera at the balcony for broadcasting The King and The Queen. The solution was set up by Vodafone and ITN with two network slices defined over Ericsson’s 5G RAN and Core network. This was one of the worlds’ first, as well as the UK’s first 5G SA broadcasting cases, and without a doubt the most high-stake scenario where nothing could go wrong. We needed to deliver top-class services in terms of capacity, low latency, and best-in-class service.”
“Vodafone and Ericsson, together with our partner and customer ITN, did something truly amazing. The first commercial slice of a 5G SA network to be used in such a monumental event like the Kings coronation. It was super exciting. I’m really, really happy to say that it was a resounding success from all aspects,” says Andrea Donà, Chief Network Officer Vodafone UK, on Ericsson’s Voice of 5G podcast. “ITN was amazed at how the slicing performed, how robust and resilient it was, and the support they got from Ericsson and from Vodafone engineers on the ground on the day.”
“We wanted to do something different. You can see there are a lot of developments in this area and our competitors and other customers in the UK have done something similar with a mobile private network. But we wanted to take it one step further. We wanted to create a dedicated area of network to be used for the event through a public network. This is truly a first in the UK and we wanted to be first.”
Vodafone opted to utilize two network slices, one to provide enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB) for mobile users, whilst another slice was used for the video upstream from the video cameras. This configuration ensured that neither the mobile phone users, nor the broadcaster would interfere with one other. They were in effect each set up as dedicated parts of the network to cope with the specific custom demands of each service.
“Their broadcast is very digitally intense, and it needs to be available immediately with no latency, no jitter, and it needs to be done in the moment. 5G standalone and slicing works beautifully for a dedicated and resilient uplink bandwidth, says Andrea Donà, Chief Network Officer Vodafone UK. “From an operators’ perspective the harsh reality of the environment that we operate in is that we need to start generating new revenue streams. The challenge we are facing as an industry is monetizing this amazing technology and we need to go beyond connectivity. 5G standalone technology brings an opportunity to bring the full benefit of a true cloud native 5G service based architecture. And as we see in the case of broadcasting that if we are able to sell the benefits of this technology in adjacent verticals, then we can start generating new, much needed, revenues.”
The radio access network separated the network slices and the 5G core network dedicated the traffic to different slices to ensure traffic separation. This allows the mobile traffic to be dedicated to both consumers using their mobile phones and to CSP’s service by choice, in this case being broadcasting and live streaming using a lot of capacity for excellent streaming for the broadcasters.
Vodafone and Ericsson have a longstanding and valued partnership. Together, the companies are on a mission to explore the potential of 5G technology and how its advanced capabilities, such as network slicing, can reshape consumer and business customers' experiences and provide more tailored services to meet their growing needs.
Listen to the podcast with Andrea Dona from Vodafone and Blessing Makumbe from Ericsson where they share more details about this case.
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