Mobile Video Conferencing and the Network
Video conferencing used to be confined to special conference rooms but now it is migrating rapidly to the PC desktop. The very next step is to expect video conferencing on mobile devices such as smart phones and tablets. And in fact we've seen a number of introductions showing exactly that functionality including the Cisco "Cius" the Avaya "Flare" and the recently announced collaboration between Polycom and Samsung for the Android-based "Galaxy." Cool stuff! But how well will this really work?
I wrote last month about supporting video conferencing over Wi-Fi networks and indicated a number of challenges. Wi-Fi is a shared medium with limited bandwidth and video conferencing is a very high bandwidth user. Enterprises will need to do some significant reengineering of their Wi-Fi networks to properly support mobile tablet or smart phones using video conferencing within their facilities.
The problem is much more exacerbated when employees head out the door and switch over to using cellular 3G or 4G networks. 4G networks have great promise but still have significant bandwidth limitations compared to an enterprise environment. 3G networks have barely enough bandwidth for support of a video conferencing call. 4G networks have just been introduced and so their coverage is limited. It takes a long time for a new wave of network infrastructure to be deployed across the country or the globe.
So we can expect okay performance in the enterprise if we reengineer and poor performance once we leave the building for the foreseeable future.
Remember those stories about how AT&T is struggling to keep their network ahead of the demand created by the iPhone? Well most applications tolerate slow networks or lossy networks much better than video conferencing. Video requires a very consistent, low latency, low loss, low jitter transport and substantial bandwidth.
So when you roam the floor at Interop in a couple of weeks and vendors are demonstrating mobile video conferencing be sure to ask what network is carrying that videoconferencing stream and take a close look at the quality that you can expect before signing up for a significant deployment of mobile video. Is the quality that you're seeing sufficient for the use cases you anticipate?
There may be use cases where mobile users primarily want to see the key participants of a multipoint call and the presentation material they are showing, but are not expected to be on video themselves. This may be a common use case especially for meetings where information dissemination is the primary goal, and mobile may be functional enough to work for this case. But don't expect telepresence quality on your smart phone or tablet anytime soon.