CradlePoint Connects Photographers to Internet at Vancouver Games

CradlePoint routers enabled photographer Richard Mackson of US PRESSWIRE used to connect his digital Nikon cameras to the Internet via a 3G/4G mobile broadband network. Thanks to the CradlePoint routers, Richard was able to shoot images in Vancouver and have a photo editor in Atlanta, Georgia receive and edit the photos in near real-time.

CradlePoint Helps Photographers Pull Off “Miracle” at Vancouver Games

US PRESSWIRE Uses CradlePoint Routers to Compress Months of Infrastructure Development Into Days in Order to Deliver Photos in Near Real-Time.

Situation:
Photographer Richard Mackson has always been at the leading edge (some might say “bleeding edge”) of photography and digital imaging. He is an award-winning sports photographer, inventor/entrepreneur whose photos have appeared on the cover of dozens of issues of Sports Illustrated. He has photographed World Cup Soccer, America’s Cup Yachting, multiple Olympics, Rose Bowls, the Oscars, Kentucky Derbies, NCAA Final Fours, BCS Championships, NBA Championships, Super Bowls, Stanley Cups, and countless other national and international sporting events. One of his pictures from the 1991 World Series was named one of the “sports shots of the century.” He holds numerous patents and most recently was the Director of External Relations and Vice President, Office of the Chief Technical Officer at Kodak, where he had the responsibility of directing the Technology Analysis, Intellectual Technology, Standards, and Communications groups. Kodak CEO Antonio Perez refers to Richard as a Renaissance Man because of his wide ranging interests and the ability to combine his creativity with the nitty gritty of the business world.

Challenge:
As US PRESSWIRE prepared to photograph the 2010 Winter games, Richard introduced the idea of employing a new, advanced workflow process—enabled by software and technology innovations, plus broadband mobile service—as
a way to shoot and edit photos in near real-time. This would allow US PRESSWIRE photographers to deliver images faster and with greater flexibility than if they relied solely on the infrastructure in place for all press members at the Vancouver games. With not much time before the start of the games, Richard knew he needed to act fast.

Solution:
“I immediately got in touch with CradlePoint to see how we could use their mobile broadband routers to send digital images taken at the games back to our photo editors in Atlanta, Georgia,” says Richard.

Working together, Richard and the CradlePoint sales and technical support team members came up with a solution using the CradlePoint MBR1200 and CBA250 mobile broadband routers. “I remember asking the CradlePoint team: ‘Can you really do this?’ And their answer was: “Oh, yeah!’ And we just jumped in with both feet.”

Just weeks before the beginning of the games, Richard performed a dry run with a prototype system at Syracuse University. “The Carrier Dome presents a lot of technical challenges. John DeFrancisco, Systems Specialist at Syracuse who helped us immensely, predicted the system wouldn’t work because of Dome’s unique characteristics. I figured if the system worked there, it would work in Vancouver,” recalls Richard. “We gave it a shot, and—for the most part—it worked. There were a few issues with the new process, but the CradlePoint routers performed solidly. We knew we could make it all work in Vancouver.”

When the US PRESSWIRE photographers arrived in Vancouver, they hit a momentary snag. “We were having trouble with the new air cards we had purchased in Vancouver,” says Richard. “I got on the phone with CradlePoint and they had me do a quick firmware update and we were back in business. That incident sums up our whole experience with the CradlePoint support team. They were incredibly responsive and proactive throughout the games.”

After the initial blip, the CradlePoint routers worked extremely well. “We were deploying entirely new communications and workflow systems that basically enabled us to shoot in Vancouver and photo edit back in Atlanta in near real-time. There were some software bugs we had to work out from a workflow standpoint. But the communications aspect— the CradlePoint routers—didn’t give us problems. The CradlePoint technology was solid.”

Richard and his colleagues quickly established a standard set up: “We had a Nikon D3S camera with Remote Frame Capture shooting at up to 9 frames per second. The camera connected via USB to a Netbook and images would be fed into the Netbooks for editing. The Netbook was plugged by Ethernet cable into the CradlePoint router. Using the CradlePoint’s 3G connection, the editor back in Atlanta would remotely access the Netbook to select and edit photos. It was pretty slick.”

Enhanced shooting functionality was just the beginning of the added capabilities made possible by the CradlePoint routers.  “It wasn’t just a one-way workflow with the CradlePoint routers,” remarks Richard. “By accessing the US PRESSWIRE Intranet through the CradlePoint router and a Netbook, I could view the photo editor’s selects back in Atlanta. If he missed an image that I thought was important, I could drag it from the folder in my Netbook into a ‘hot’ FTP folder.”

The two-way communication was a great stress reliever (and really helped the budget), too: “The CradlePoint was absolutely essential to making this new remote workflow succeed,” notes Richard. “You can see in one of the photos, I’m wearing headsets. I’m actually using the CradlePoint router to talk over Skype to an editor back in Atlanta as I’m shooting to make sure I’m getting the shot we need. When the gastric juices are churning because you don’t know if you got the shot, and your editor can communicate back to you in seconds that, ‘yes, you did get it’... that’s great.”

The CradlePoint routers were powered by CradlePoint and Tekkeon extended life batteries, which allowed the photographers maximum freedom. “We could use AC when available, or run off batteries if necessary. When we were up on the ski hill, that was really valuable. The batteries lasted long enough that we could get to an event an hour beforehand, do our prep work, move around the event for 3-4 hours shooting and then do up to an hour of post-event work...all the while running off battery power.”

Richard continues: “One time, the venue staff asked photographers to clear out of the ice dancing arena while they changed set ups. I just switched my MBR1200 to battery power and started wirelessly uploading images as I walked through the bowels of the arena. I kept transmitting as I got on the bus, without once dropping the connection. When my photo editor back in Atlanta phoned to tell me he had downloaded all the photos, he was kind of shocked that I done it all while on the move.”

This isn’t that scenario, but the fact that the CradlePoint routers enabled me to work corroboratively with a photo editor who was thousands of miles away in near realtime—when the pressure to be first with the best shot was incredible—that’s a true competitive advantage.”

The question comes up: “Why CradlePoint?” After all, there are other wireless routers out there. Richard answers the question in his typical, no-nonsense style: “I didn’t even consider anyone else. When there is absolutely no margin for error, you go with who has the best reputation. You go with who is willing to work with you. You go with who is best. For us, that was CradlePoint.”

Benefits:

  • Simple. “I’ve worked with pretty much all the other wireless routers,” notes Richard. “CradlePoint is one of the simplest and most intuitive set ups. Period.”
  • Reliable. “I went in with pretty high expectations,” reports Richard. “CradlePoint met those expectations. And in some cases, exceeded them. We were stressing the limits and I kept waiting for the shoe to drop. It never did.”
  • Performance. “Because of heavy traffic on the Rogers wireless network in Vancouver, we didn’t get wire line speeds,” says Richard, “but the CradlePoint connection was more than fast enough. I shot close to 40,000 images that were remotely edited, and transmitted probably 2,000 high-resolution images using the CradlePoint routers.”   
  • Support. “I can’t say enough about the CradlePoint support team,” reports Richard. “Every time we needed help, we had an immediate response.”
  • Value. “The photography organizations who had been at Vancouver for months building out their VLAN infrastructure spent enormous amounts of money,” says Richard. “With CradlePoint, I’d say the entire networking package, including Netbooks and everything, ran less than $5,000. When you can get a 10X increase in productivity...at a cost savings that are incalculable, that’s remarkable.”

Richard adds these final thoughts: “US PRESSWIRE is fast becoming the largest dedicated sports photography organization in the market, and we may already be the most technologically astute and most willing to push the envelope. We were running with the ‘big’ news organizations and we had a level of flexibility they didn’t have based on our ability to capitalize on this new technology. Some of the other photographers who saw what we were doing—especially the technically savvy ones—were amazed. That fact that we could provide the level of quality and consistency that the CradlePoint routers enabled, well, we shocked a lot of people.