Groundbreaking live ‘bonded HDR’ satellite video broadcasts from the Mediterranean Sea help capture the plight of refugees

Live satellite transmissions throughout the day, with no picture break up, using two Land based Explorer 710 HDR terminals at sea, bonded together

NSSLGlobal has recently worked with the BBC to enable a series of live ‘Bonded HDR’ (High Data Rate) satellite television broadcasts from on board M.V. Aquarius, an NGO vessel in the Mediterranean Sea. A morning broadcast on 13th May 2016, and subsequent news bulletins throughout the day, featured a powerful eight-minute segment with correspondent Christian Fraser live from Aquarius as it rescued migrants making the perilous crossing from Libya to the EU coastline.  This ‘first’ was delivered in extremely challenging circumstances with no breakup in picture quality.


Live broadcasts from a ship are notoriously difficult, but this project was particularly challenging given the variable weather conditions and connectivity restraints imposed by the ship. The team was unable to hook in to Aquarius’s on board connectivity as it was in full use by the ship’s crew for critical operations.  To avoid having to install an expensive dedicated broadcast network communications specialist, Keith Wood had the innovative idea to bond together two EXPLORER 710 HDR terminals that would traditionally only be used on land.


During the broadcasts engineer Ultan Molloy worked closely with the ship Captain to maintain a steady course and 13-knot speed while simultaneously trying to maintain the optimal point direction and signal strength. The solution had a tolerance of ± 10° misalignment built in to account for swell.


HDR video services typically transmit at around 650-700kbps. But by ‘bonding’ two portable BGAN EXPLORER 710 satellite terminals (on Inmarsat’s satellite network) NSSLGlobal was able to deliver double the normal HDR bandwidth for this transmission. This extra bandwidth not only allows for the transmission of sharper images, but can also accommodate the higher data throughput of highly dynamic images such as moving backgrounds or extremely ‘active’ scenes. 


“To get a live stable signal from a moving boat traveling at 13 knots in force 6 wind conditions would have been almost impossible until now. What Keith and the BBC has been able to achieve is a truly incredible engineering achievement,” commented Peter Crafter, Enterprise & Government Sales Director, NSSLGlobal. “NSSLGlobal is one of the only companies in the industry with the proven infrastructure and engineering capability to support bonded HDR signals. These unusual and challenging broadcasts from the Mediterranean are an excellent test-case for the abilities of this system to perform in a maritime scenario and we’re very pleased with the results.”


NSSLGlobal has provided satellite services to the BBC for over a decade and supported a number of The Corporation’s technically ground-breaking broadcasts. In March 2015 NSSLGlobal enabled its first live ‘Bonded HDR’ broadcast as part of a Comic Relief segment on ‘The One Show’ that featured Lenny Henry live from Uganda. In 2013 NSSLGlobal also helped deliver its first-ever HDR television broadcast live from South Africa, as part of the coverage surrounding Nelson Mandela’s death.


NSSLGlobal plans to make ‘Bonded HDR’ available as a product via its website, allowing broadcasters and other organisations to easily set up high-bandwidth satellite feeds of this kind.

View the Live Broadcast below, and a video created by the BBC engineer who set up the link. Please be aware the videos may not work with Internet Explorer, so please use a different platform. If you are still experiencing problems, please contact us.