Pioneering ‘private 5G’ network technology designed and deployed by the University of Strathclyde and its spin-out company, Neutral Wireless, was used to connect cameras for international broadcast coverage of the late Queen Elizabeth II’s final departure from Scotland.

In a world first for television production, Strathclyde worked with Glasgow-based outside broadcast specialist QTV, which provided the international broadcast feed.

The historic pictures captured by the network and beamed across the globe, included footage of the coffin being carried by personnel from The Queen’s Colour Squadron, 63 Squadron, Royal Air Force Regiment and the RAF’s C-17 Globemaster taking off and carrying Her Late Majesty to RAF Northolt in London.

Operation Unicorn

‘Operation Unicorn’ – the codename of the plan for handling Her Late Majesty’s death should she pass away in Scotland – saw the Queen’s coffin transported from Edinburgh Airport to RAF Northolt by air. This created the need for a high-definition, broadcast-capable, wireless solution that avoided the use of cables across the airport runway, whilst mitigating interference and guaranteeing quality of service.

Traditionally, broadcast cameras connect to the outside broadcast solely using radio (RF) signals which rely on proprietary equipment. 5G-enables a range of cameras and other devices, in a wider range of locations to be potentially used, opening up new creative and operational benefits to broadcasters.

Partially funded by the Scottish Government via the Scotland 5G Centre’s Wave 1 Projects and partnering with the IBC Accelerator Media Innovation Programme that included some of the world’s top broadcasters and technology companies, Neutral Wireless’s pop-up 5G Stand Alone (SA) network was deployed for QTV within 24 hours of the spectrum licence being granted by Ofcom. The use of such a private 5G SA at an airport is also believed to be a first. 

Historic occasion

Scottish Government Business Minister Ivan McKee said: “The Scottish Government’s £1.9 million investment in the University of Strathclyde’s 5G initiatives via the Scotland 5G Centre has made it possible for this historic occasion to be broadcast to millions of people around the world.

“This demonstrates how new technology can help transform Scotland’s economy and society, by enhancing our global competitiveness, facilitating business growth and driving innovation.”

The Neutral Wireless system being set up at Edinburgh Airport

The technology deployed was trialled and developed through a series of ground-breaking proof-of-concept trials in 2022 as part of IBC’s Accelerator Media Innovation Programme. This IBC Accelerator project has delivered a series of breakthrough experimental broadcast use cases during 2021 and 2022 including several world firsts in remote regions of the world including Ireland, Kenya, New Zealand, and live to the IBC show floor from the Highland Games in Pitlochry, Scotland, on September 10th featuring the pioneering rural testbed work with key partner, the Scotland 5G Centre, over the last three years.

Professor Bob Stewart, from Strathclyde, who is head of the University’s Software Defined Radio team, said: “The use of a dedicated 5G private network operating in shared spectrum is believed to be a first for live TV news, broadcast using shared access radio spectrum.

 “The network operated live for nine hours with no reported interference due to our network and we were honoured and humbled to be able to play a part at such an important moment.”

Principal and Vice Chancellor of Strathclyde, Professor Sir Jim McDonald, said:

“I am proud that the team were able to bring their expertise to bear to help document such a sad and solemn occasion in our history. It is deeply impressive that our colleagues applied the Strathclyde ‘can do’ approach to deliver such a professional outcome that meant so much to national and international viewers. “

QTV worked closely with national broadcasters for ‘Operation Unicorn’, which provided a world feed to television channels globally, including content captured over the private 5G network.

Gareth Gordon, CTO at QTV, said: “From the band of the Royal Regiment of Scotland to the RAF’s C-17 Globemaster taking off and carrying Her Late Majesty the Queen from Scotland for the last time, these were breath-taking live pictures broadcast globally from the airport tarmac. The video link on the 5G network wasn’t there as a back-up – it was a live feed to the world.” 

Project champion

Established and funded with £14.5 million by the Scottish Government, the S5GC was a project champion in the IBC project, working alongside key local academic and industry partners, as well as international broadcasting and technology partners.

Julie Snell, Chair of the Scotland 5G Centre Board, said: “It is great to see the technology and know-how engineered and tested in Scotland on the Scotland 5G rural Wave 1 testbed projects come to international prominence right after the successful IBC middle of nowhere demonstrations in four countries.”

Cameron Speirs, Chief Commercial Officer at Neutral Wireless, said: “It is genuinely innovative technology, pioneered in Scotland, and it was because of IBC that we had the proven use cases and dialogue with all the right industry expertise to make it a reality.”