Election Day is upon us, and Americans across the country are flooding polling places to cast their vote for the candidates they want – or don’t want – leading our country for the next two to four years. With 2012 being a presidential election year, Americans are also choosing who they believe should lead the free world, and either become or remain arguably the most powerful man on Earth. Leading up to Election Day, Americans have been inundated with seemingly endless media coverage, television commercials, and radio broadcasts about each candidate’s policies.
However, with the advent of high speed mobile broadband, 2012 is arguably one of the first elections where the internet and social media are playing a bigger role than ever before. With nearly half of all Americans owning a smartphone, much of their research about candidates for federal, state, and local offices is coming via these same connected devices. Every single major media organization has taken great pains to ensure that their coverage is available on these devices, whether it be via a mobile web browser or dedicated apps.
But what many Americans may not realize when listening to live streaming audio on their smartphones is that the same technology that enables them to listen is also the same technology media organizations are using to produce and broadcast. Most notably, the widespread availability of 4G LTE networks, powered mostly by Verizon Wireless in the United States, finally provides the bandwith, reliability, and speed needed for media organizations to stream live audio from various campaign events in real time. I recently had an opportunity to speak with Charlie Mayer, Director Of Operations for NPR, about just how media outlets like NPR are leveraging high-speed 4G LTE networks to get the latest election coverage voters want instantly.
MOTG: How has the advancements in mobile technology, notably 4G LTE, changed the way NPR is able to cover election campaigns?
CM: It has had a huge effect for NPR. The main change is the ability to bring audio live from a campaign event to NPR. It has made a big difference.
MOTG: With 4G LTE now becoming more widespread, what do you predict will be different in the 2016 election campaigns?
CM: If you go back to 2000, if you were going to get any kind of connection, you had to be on a hard wire. In 2004, we were able to record from a campaign bus using a 3G EV-DO connection … In 2012, we have the ability to broadcast live bidirectional audio where the reporters in the field use a 4G LTE device, and they are heard in full fidelity in the studio, and the reporter can hear the studio. That’s the arc on innovation we’ve been riding. If I had to predict 2016, I don’t see a big change in the networks, but the amount of equipment connected to these 4G LTE networks. With the iPhone 5, and other Android devices, we are now able to easily broadcast live audio.
MOTG: What is the biggest challenge or roadblock when it comes to using 4G LTE in the field?
CM: We learned during Inauguration 2009 about network saturation, we know we can’t always rely on this technology when tens of thousands of people are trying to access the same network. We recently had this same issue at both of the party conventions. I was kind of disappointed because I told everybody “no, no, it’s different this time”, and it probably is, but when you put so many people in the same space, they are all contending for the same bandwith.
MOTG: Has it made it more cost-effective using 4G LTE?
CM: Yes, a little, but what it’s really done in enhance the quality. Ten years ago it would have costs us thousands of dollars for legacy equipment to get the same audio.
MOTG: More and more news in breaking on Twitter and Facebook, what in your opinion can established media organizations can offer that social media cannot?
CM: When I hear our reporters reporting from wherever the news is happening, I know it’s credible. Using the 4G LTE networks, I can hear that the reporters are actually there. It’s a huge point of pride for us, knowing that our reporters are actually there and credible.
MOTG: Is there a generational gap in reporters who are adopting this technology?
CM: Yes, everybody’s different. I think it has the most to do with you seeing this technology benefiting your life. We don’t force anybody to use anything, if [the technology] is good, it will sell itself.
MOTG: Do you compress the audio at all to get it in the door, so it won’t require as much bandwith?
CM: Yes. We have some control … we can throttle up or down to get a good bitrate with the connection so it moves through the network quickly. We want to remove as much latency as possible.
MOTG: What percentage of your broadcast comes in over 4G LTE?
CM: This has because routine, I don’t hear about it anyone. It’s become ubiquitous. The technology is so good it has become completely transparent. LTE is at the end of being a new thing, it’s become what we tend to expect. We were approached by Verizon Wireless when LTE was first launched, and were able to see what it is capable of at Bell Labs. Since then, we’ve been using 4G LTE more and more often to the point where it’s now just ubiquitous to NPR.
So this Election Day, while listening to hear if your candidate of choice is going to win the hearts – and votes – of America, it’s important to remember that the same 4G LTE network powering your NPR app, or other app of choice, is the same network that is delivering the up-to-the-minute coverage you want. As Mr. Mayer remarked, 4G LTE is now matured into a transparent, seamless method to deliver our world.
At least there’s one thing we can count on for transparency this Election Day, since politicians aren’t necessarily known for it.