With John the Plumber Working On the Pipes, Video Conferencing Will Flow
By Sagee Ben-Zedeff
In a recent post here Ariel cautioned that the world is going High Def and bandwidth is becoming a valuable asset. He was talking about the world of visual communication, but this is true (and maybe more relevant) for the consumer and entertainment markets as well. It seems that all around us the need for bandwidth is growing. This leads one to wonder whether the infrastructure we currently have and the one we're building for the future will be sufficient. If not, it will become the great obstacle in the wheels of High Definition.
When it comes to infrastructure and predictions, expert advice is needed. Telecommunication vendor Cisco makes a living selling pipes, (Internet pipes that is) as it believes that the network is a platform. Therefore their recent projection for "Global IP Traffic" has to be read with caution, but also with much care. The Cisco Visual Networking Index Forecast for 2007-2012 predicts that global IP traffic will reach 44 exabytes per month in 2012 (an Exabyte is 1 billion gigabytes), which amounts to 46% growth annually from 2007 to 2012. That means IP traffic will double every two years.
Cisco predicts that Video-On-Demand (VOD), IPTV, Peer-to-peer (P2P) video and Internet video will account for nearly 90 percent of the overall consumer IP traffic in 2012. Stacey Higginbotham of GigaOm has made a similar prediction, picking internet services that are expected to become "bandwidth hogs" in 3-5 years:
- Telemedicine and Remote Surgery
- Real-Time Data Backup
- Telepresence/High Definition Video Conferencing
- Video Instant Messaging/Video Presence
I previously discussed the first two and will now focus on the latter two, as they are the most relevant from an enterprise perspective. As David Hallerman from eMarketer argues, the internet is not about to collapse. However these "hogs" will impose additional expenses on infrastructure, which will necessitate various techniques to reduce traffic and limit it.
How much bandwidth will organizations really need?!
Everything is going High Def, including PC-based desktop video conferencing clients like RADVISION's Scopia Desktop, which already offer IM and presence capabilities as well. This makes NoJitter's John Bartlett wonder if organizations will be able to handle a mass deployment of video conferencing infrastructure.
According to John, a typical organization will probably deploy 0.5 Telepresence systems, 2 HD room systems, 10 legacy room systems and 100 desktop clients per 1,000 employees. Therefore, an example organization of 10,000 employees will easily reach 700Mbps of potential core bandwidth.
Everyone agrees video conferencing will be massively deployed. The only debate is whether it will be next year or in 5 years time. So how will enterprises solve the bandwidth problems? More precisely - how will next generation video conferencing (VC) systems solve those problems for them?!
The obvious answer is to control these pipes and to deal with them like any valuable resource in the organization. ISPs like Comcast are trying to come up with ways to limit internet use, and IT departments could imitate these methods to the same effect. The first place to set limits is point-to-point (P2P) calls, which IMHO account for most of the current VC traffic. P2P should receive less bandwidth, as it should be reserved for multi-party conferences.
Another easy way to limit bandwidth consumption is through the use of scheduled conferences. When you schedule a conference, the system will "reserve" the bandwidth for you. A good VC system should be able to schedule such a conference in the optimal time, in terms of the organization and the user.
If you don't schedule, or if you want to use ad-hoc conferencing, you will "get what's available", probably according to some company policy (the higher you are up in the hierarchy, the more bandwidth you will get; some departments would get more bandwidth than others; etc.).
Using Bandwidth Wisely
After the bandwidth has been allocated, you'd better be using that bandwidth as efficiently as possible, since there is no such thing as enough bandwidth. Some possible methods for doing that are:
Using methods such as "Video Sub-Mode Control" discussed here. VC systems can reduce bandwidth and consume it only when needed, regardless of end-user preferences. This is especially efficient in multi-party conferences, where not all participants are visible.
Distributed MCUs will allow for reduced bandwidth between corporate "hubs", thus reducing bandwidth costs dramatically.
"Tailored" Codecs, optimized for video conferencing, enable better quality video transmission in given bandwidth and less bandwidth for a given video quality.
One can argue that all of the methods listed above should allow video conferencing systems to better deal with limited bandwidth, and that network elements should guarantee QoS even in cases of limited bandwidth, but this is really a subject for another post.
In the mean time, I can pacify John — I believe that by 2012 video conferencing systems, the pipes they are using, and the IT people responsible for them will evolve in such a way that video conferencing will flow and blossom. And I guess it doesn't hurt to have "John the Plumber" on our side.
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