One of the best things about doing what I do is that I get to play with interesting technology in interesting places with interesting people and nothing sums that up better, I think, than this. The Grand Tour Sand Job, it was released in February of this year but actually the recording was last year, April time, April, May time.

And I know that because I was approached by these guys Creo Kinetics. Interesting people.

They specialize in mounted camera systems. They’ll rig cameras to anything and everything that moves. Vehicles, Aircraft, And they’ve been doing this sort of thing With Top Gear Slash The Grand Tour Uh, A number of times now. You can see in the bottom right there there’s a a shot from inside of their follow car where they can where they’re streaming video from each of the presenters vehicles back to the director and there’s an incredible amount of technology involved here as we’ll see.

They contacted me because they were looking for help. The Grand Tour was being filmed in Mauritania, in Northwest Africa. An interesting location, sandy of course, Sahara Desert is there, hot indeed. And also, frustratingly, not yet covered by Starlink. For regulatory reasons, I think. So they were looking to take all of their equipment, get it installed into the cars as usual, and then what they wanted to do was really consider better ways to get the video streams from the cars back to the follow car.

And if we look at it a bit like this The Grand Tour format, as I expect you’ll be aware, has vehicles and the presenters sometimes together and sometimes apart. But whatever, however it currently works, In all cases, there are multiple video streams coming from each car back to the follow car, which is typically rigged as in this case, the Land Rover Discovery there in the bottom left with its own cameras.

And the director sits in the follow car and actively mixes and the cameras and checks to make sure that everything looks good and that they’ve got the right feeds. Now I’m pretty sure the video gets recorded locally in the vehicles itself, and it’s just for real time viewing the, the video streams that come back to the follow car.

But what it, what there also is, is the ability with Creo kinetics own custom hardware and, and some very clever tech that they’ve built for the director to remotely control the cameras and the lighting. In the vehicle, yeah, they can also see things like the battery levels the power situation the amount of Disk space left on the cameras that sort of thing so connectivity then between the hero cars the cars with the presenters in and the follow cars and and there’s a Another vehicle for the production staff too is super important And you might wonder how that works now the Perhaps the immediate thought would be all it’s just wi fi, right?

You know, you’ve got the follow car out with it acting as a As a Wi Fi AP and then you’ve got the other vehicles that could connect to it with the right antennas installed and with the right with the right hardware and the right frequencies, that would be quite successful. But, as we know, that sort of Wi Fi 5, Wi Fi 6, even the best access points, the most Distance you’re likely to get is around about 200 meters.

You can move to infrastructure hardware. Of course, you could look at the like the Ubiquiti Air Max or or similar with big 10 and 13 dbi Omnidirectional antennas, but If you were to do that, it would be very, very visible on the vehicle. So they don’t want to do that. They want the vehicles to look as stock as possible after the presenters modifications.

And and they want, they want to keep the, the technology hidden away in the inside, in the trunk, in the boot, wherever they can. So. CreoKinetics has turned to a manufacturer of mesh radios called doodle labs and doodle labs are Really really good. I’ve used them in the past for unmanned surface vessels for creating mesh Wi Fi between sort of surface drones or marine drones for surveys and It works fantastically well.

Really good coverage. It’s a COFDM licensed device, so it’s multi carrier, multiplexed, and it deals very well with RF interference, it’s got lots of power, and you can, you can in the real world get, you know, two kilometers of range from each radio. And when you consider that it’s a full mesh, and I’m very capable at that.

Then, potentially, as this picture shows, you’ve got a Follow car with one of the Hero cars being up to 6km away and still streaming video and still in contact with, with full control of the cameras and the lighting. But the question that came back to me was what can we do when those cars go out of coverage?

And if you’ve seen the format, normally, there’s one of the presenters, something goes wrong, they get left behind the other to move on. And it can be considerable distances. And when you go past that, that two kilometers and you break the chain, you suddenly got a vehicle that you can no longer contact.

Well, if you stick with the mesh product and the mesh idea, you would put another node in the middle. And that might be a roaming radio car, that might be a battery powered transmitter, something like that. Or even potentially a drone could sit in between and kind of bridge the distant vehicle with the, with the, with the nearer vehicles.

But that isn’t really practical when you’re in vehicles and driving fast and having to get from one location to another. Yeah. Drones can’t stay in the air for extended periods of time unless they’re tethered and that gets messy and back to the point of we’re not wanting them to be visible. That’s can be a bit of a challenge.

So what’s the alternative? Naturally, we looked at cellular and we looked at peplink and we recognize that if we combined The mesh Wi Fi with cellular as a backup I wish we could have used Starlink, but we couldn’t for, for those regulatory reasons, but if we had Starlink, I would have thrown that in too with cellular.

mesh and cellular, we were in a position where we could fail over to cellular and keep all of the cars connected. So that’s what we did, and this is a great example of how much tech goes into these vehicles. This was Jeremy Clarkson’s Jaguar. It’s it’s fun. Full of tech. Look at it. There’s batteries in there.

There’s, there’s, I can see some Victron DC DC management. Maybe that’s a charger. Who knows? We’ve got video splitters and SDI and, and and right just to the right there in the middle, we’ve got the mesh radio from DoodleLabs. The Mesh Rider is the first version of it and to the right of that a BR1 Pro 5G acting as the router on board.

Really interesting isn’t it? It’s there’s a lot of work that goes into each of these vehicles to get them powered, connected to make the audio and video work. So knowing that we could fit this in and we could power it and make it reliable. The next question was, what should the topology be? Actually, how should we combine them?

And what would that combination look like? Because typically if you talk to a mesh Wi Fi manufacturer, they really expect you to be on the LAN, right? They expect them to be the only connection in this kind of scenario and they want to be in charge of dealing with the LAN traffic. So you would typically have a device that acts as a default gateway on this on this network segment and it would do DHCP and The mesh Wi Fi ends up being this transparent bridge, if you like, that lets any device that’s connected to it take part in that network at layer two, which is great.

And and if you’re just using the mesh Wi Fi, why not? You know, it’s perhaps a little bit cumbersome if you have a full. Broadcast domain across all of these devices all of these vehicles. It really depends on how many LAN side devices you might have or how many IP connected devices in each car So you could do it and I’ve seen people definitely do this on sort of unmanned drones and things works very well But it needs a little bit of management.

Now if you want to add another connection in well How would you do it? Because if you start putting Br1 pros into each vehicle and you put a 5g connection on how do we get the local LAN Connected devices to be able to route over there either the mesh or the cellular or indeed later if this wasn’t Mauritania over a starlink connection too perhaps well We really start to have to think about moving to layer three rather than layer two and if In this configuration, what we’ve got are independent subnets for each vehicle.

You can see those little clouds there at the bottom of the screen. And that means that each vehicle gets as many IP addresses as they want in their own range. And it’s very clear as to how traffic routing is going to work, right? You know, if it’s on the local segment, it talks locally layer two. If it needs to talk to the follow vehicle or to the other cars for that matter, it knows it has to go to the gateway.

And so the BR1 Pro in the car is acting as the gateway and managing routing of traffic onwards from there. And this is where it gets quite interesting because In this kind of setup in this topology right here, we’ve got a wired WAN connection going into the Doodle Labs radio and that is our original Layer 2 bridge so that all of the WAN ports on all of these devices can talk directly to each other and It’s a potentially really quite efficient thing to do.

You could statically assign all of the WAN IPs on all of these devices. You could then use a routing protocol like OSPF so that all of the routers learn. all of the all of the LAN subnets that are behind each one and then if you set those WANs to be IP forwarding instead of NAT, you would have full routing then over the doodle mesh radios between all of these BR1 pros, which is really neat.

But then how do we bring the 5G connection in? Well, then it gets a little bit more confusing if you’ve got multiple Multiple links connecting multiple devices. You really want some sort of tunneling Encapsulation technique to deal with that and of course in pet links Well, we would immediately reach for speed fusion and it’s completely possible to do speed fusion like this So a fully meshed speed fusion vpn Connection between all devices because these are prime care.

So the devices get five peer licenses anyway So there’s more enough licensing to do it So long as Those 5g connections all those cellular connections are public ips and directly routable to each other or if not public ip then They need to be routable to each other. So they could be on a private apn they could they could go via an MVNO and have that kind of Private kind of network where they can talk to each other, but it would need direct ip communication.

Otherwise Speedfusion can’t build a bonded connection using both the radio and cellular together between all the devices. Now in this situation, there were a couple of additional challenges. Firstly, the cellular side was pretty unknown. We, we didn’t supply the cellular to Mauritania. We could, we’ve got capabilities in country.

Creokinetics had their own sims. They bought their own services. It was a bring your own sim from their perspective But those sims were carrier grade NAT, so they didn’t allow inbound routing so we couldn’t do a full mesh like we’d perhaps want to and We weren’t really sure as to how successful cellular was going to be in general So there was a question there of Should we treat cellular as, you know, the, a backup rather than a primary way for these devices to connect.

So if we’ve got carrier grade NAT, then the only thing we can do is put a hub device in place that’s got a public IP and get all of those devices to connect to it. And that’s exactly what we did. So top right, you can see a Fusion Hub. This was hosted in the cloud as locally as we could get to them in Mauritania.

And then. All of the BR1 Pros, over their cellular connections, create a VPN tunnel to the Fusion Hub. And once they’re connected, OSPF on the Fusion Hub kicks in and shares all of the subnets with all the other routers. So immediately, so long as you’ve got a cellular connection, you can route between all of the radios.

That’s brilliant. And then, With the Doodle Labs radios connected on the WAN interfaces. Again, we use OSPF, so that the routers were sharing their LAN subnets over the WAN as well. You’ll see that actually the top BR1 there, which is the BR1 used by the follow car, actually has the radio on the LAN, and you might wonder why that is.

This was purely because of time and operational benefit to doing it this way. If there was more time and if I could have attended on site, I would have gone, I would have connected that follow car BR1 via its WAN interface. And I would have statically assigned all of the WAN IPs. But, I knew that if I designed the network this way, with the smart radios on the LAN of that top BR1, I would have some benefits.

And the primary one was, anybody could plug this together following an easy guide, and as soon as the smart radio is connected, they would get a DHCP IP address from that follow car, and the WAN IPs would get automatically assigned, and it would connect and work. Now that Isn’t guaranteed if you have to statically assign things and if you have to rely on people to have laptops with with ethernet ports and all that sort of stuff So this was the lowest risk operationally as a way to do this from a topology perspective if We could have prepped it all in advance Fully and run it up on a workbench and tested it and make sure it worked Then we probably would have statically assigned all of the wan ips And gotten rid of the the need for DHCP So what’s the benefit of this configuration?

It’s it means that we are re relying on OSPF to do all of the routes and, and the learning, which is the learning of the route, which is brilliant. And the remote devices can connect to the internet via the follow car BR1 because if that BR1 has got cellular, or indeed if it was plugged into starlink, if that was available, traffic from the.

Vehicle LANs could pass over the mesh and get to the internet even when the vehicle LAN the vehicle routers don’t have active cellular connections so really neat and it worked very well and it meant that they had reliable video and control over the cameras and audio and talk back and all those sorts of things between the vehicles which ultimately meant that the project was successful and The show went ahead, they got the footage they needed, and if you’ve seen it, it was actually pretty good, I thought.

It’s always fun to see these guys play in their cars, that’s for sure. So this is one of the things we do event telecom, it’s interesting projects in interesting places with interesting people. And it’s, it’s projects that let us test technology in new ways, and see if we can find the best way to enable that.

The features needed to deliver your service, whatever that might be, whether it be teleoperation autonomy of of robots and vehicles, or indeed, unmanned vessels.

And this is what we do at Venn telecom. We do interesting work in interesting places with interesting people. So if you’ve got something interesting, and it involves connectivity, and it’s perhaps somewhere interesting. Then give us a call and we’d love to help you and see how we can improve Your connectivity to make your project work, too Thank you.