Video Conferencing on Mobile Devices
Just don’t do it!
Joking aside, of course it’s not avoidable.
Traveling associates and executives can save a lot of money talking on video conferences or even less bandwidth-intensive IP Voice clients compared to global roaming cell phone charges or even hotel phone charges. Most hotels worldwide offer WiFi, and connecting to conference calls and video conferences via a mobile client application is feasible. However, almost certain difficulties await you and your customer base.
All wireless devices in a location share the airwaves. Wireless bandwidth pales by comparison to network bandwidth available to wired, switched networks. Only one device can transmit on a channel at a time, whether your mobile device, laptop, or the WiFi access point. It’s like having multiple simultaneous meetings in a crowded conference room with only one person being able to speak to another at any time–tough to get a word in.
Video conferencing (and high-def video streaming) consumes disproportionate amounts of bandwidth per user, and a relative few users can consume enough of the available wireless network capacity in any location to cause problems with audio and video calls. This is true whether in a small office with a legacy WiFi access point (WAP), or a larger office with several people in a meeting with laptops.
The required bandwidth increases with the number of participants for this particular mobile app.
To compare, Cisco’s Jabber mobile client negotiates optimum video quality and dynamically raises or lowers resolution to handle variations in available bandwidth according to the following IOS-focused chart from this Cisco Installation Guide book. Similar tables are given for Android devices.
Video Conferencing and Hotel WiFi Network Considerations
It’s impossible to guarantee quality connections and video conferencing experiences over WiFi networks scattered throughout the world, especially in hotels.
Hotel operators will install the bare minimum number of access points to provide coverage. They do not have any financial incentive to “overbuild” with more access points than necessary, and then adjust settings to ensure optimal performance for real-time applications as new wireless networks for corporate offices would be designed.
Also, hotel WAPs may not support the latest and fastest wireless standard if they were installed more than two years ago. Each version of the standard defines increased connection speeds, and older versions just seem so much slower than one expects. Also, different areas of each floor may experience interference from other WiFi networks in the neighborhood.
Adding to the list of variables involved in a WiFi connection, the common Bring Your Own Device policies may encourage people to hang on to the last generation smartphone which may have chipsets that only support older WiFi standard speeds. The latest client application still has to use the mobile device hardware to communicate to the WiFi access point.
So, now imagine how many rooms are on a business class hotel floor, and consider most business travelers have a laptop and a phone with wifi, and possibly even a tablet. The number of devices attached to the wifi adds up quickly. Besides moving data, WAPs constantly perform security calculations, adding to their workload. Other hotel guests may stream HD videos to pass their downtime, others may also be participating in audio or video conferences online.
If the hotel wireless network can handle and support the density of devices and traffic to each, the question of the Internet connection bandwidth available to the hotel guests arises. Firewall and proxy capacities factor in to hotel network performance.
Conference Call Disruptions
Suppose the remote hotel-resident participant in a conference call or video conference experiences some connection reliability problems. If he or she is the only one experiencing issues, what will that matter? It all depends on who it is and his or her role.
If it’s the CIO staying in the hotel, he or she probably scheduled the meeting and is the one presenting a Powerpoint pitch or sharing documents. When that connection gets shaky, every participant experiences each pixelation or the disconnect and sees extremely slow presentation screen changes. You get reports that video conferences and conference calls have failed for senior management, and you and your team spend hours reviewing logs and monitoring tools looking for evidence to support the reported claims but can only find records of one participant dropping due to bandwidth constraints.
And since the meeting probably includes members of the management team, they may all take away distrust in the technology in general, never having pondered the myriad variables. To them, “the technology isn’t ready” or “Lync sucks” or “the network sucks” or “we have to outsource IT.”
Education is key. As the Service Owner of Collaboration Technologies, you can draft an Acceptable Use Policy or Audio and Video Conferencing Usage Advisory document. Executive education is key. Require that users acknowledge the Policy document before their mobile client is installed on their device. It’s important the user base understands the limitations so voice and video conference calls proceed with the best possible results, and entire technology platforms are not indicted due to factors completely out of your control.