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4 Tips to Improve Video Conferencing Performance When You Have Unlimited Bandwidth

Jul 16, 2014, by Ben Fineman
Tags: 100 gigabit Ethernet, Internet2 NET+, Internet2 Video Exchange, Membership, Video Services, Video, Voice & Collaboration

I recently read a well-written article entitled 3 Tips to Improve Video Conference Performance Without Cramping Bandwidth. This article was a good one, and nicely emphasizes that there are many other important concerns beyond networkperformance when it comes to video collaboration. But it did get me thinking - what about when you have unlimited bandwidth? In the Internet2 community, our universities and other connected institutions have massive pipes between them such that it’s next to impossible to fill them up. (Am I connected?

We are running multiple 100Gbps links across the country and maintaining a minimum of 50% headroom to leave space for bursty traffic like big data transfers, experimental traffic, and, you guessed it, advanced video communications. Institutions themselves are connecting to our backbone or regional networks more often at 100Gbps, with connections below 10Gbps becoming less and less common. Certainly you probably won’t see 100Gbps direct to your computer or video conferencing system anytime soon, but the point here is that if your system has a 100Mbps or 1Gbps connection on Internet2 it’s a waste to not be using more of it. So - let’s talk about how. 

Kick up the Bandwidth

This one seems like a tautology, but it’s still an important point: to increase performance when you have more bandwidth, you should…use more bandwidth. Many video conferencing codecs and software clients have settings to let you set the bandwidth manually. Sometimes you have to go digging - in hardware systems, you may have to go to the system settings and enable bandwidth controls to be shown on the call dialog. In software systems, you will find it somewhere in the settings or preferences. More recent software tends to obscure this behind a general “quality” setting - just choose the highest one. In fact whatever number is available when you do get an enumerated choice for bandwidth - choose the highest one. I am not aware of a consumer video conferencing system, even high-end telepresence, that goes above ~6Mbps per screen. This means you’ll still be using only a drop in the bucket of your 100Mbps or 1Gbps link. But, a slightly larger drop than you were before - sit back and bask in the beauty of less video compression with smoother motion, richer colors and better resolutions.

Kick Down the QoS

Quality of Service (QoS) and related technologies are important systems that definitely have their places. However, one of those places is not on a completely uncontested link. Your vanilla QoS basically adds tags to your traffic to say “HEY THIS IS IMPORTANT” such that your network can kick it to the front of the line if the pipe fills up. When properly configured this is mostly fine, and will generally have no effect on your video performance when there is no congestion. However, I’ve also seen improperly configured QoS actually slow things down even when no congestion exists. What is more concerning are some of the other features manufacturers include in the QoS bucket that can muck things up. For example, I have seen dynamic bandwidth features intended to help with congestion unnecessarily throttle calls on a 1Gbps link down to 384Kbps. Long story short: unless you are pretty sure you need QoS, turn it off.

Make Sure You’re Connected

This might be a conversation for your video engineer, or your network engineer, or both - but it can be important. We’re starting with the assumption that your institution is connected to Internet2 - great! But did you know that even with an Internet2 Network connection, your video calls might be getting slowed down or (gasp!) traversing the commodity internet? If your endpoint is not registered to a gatekeeper or registrar, or that infrastructure is not connected to the Internet2 Video Exchange, things have the potential to go awry. The two main reasons are firewall/NAT traversal and video exchange peerings. For the traversal question, unless your firewall/NAT are optimized for video applications, they might be negatively affecting your video performance. Registering your endpoint and deploying the appropriate traversal elements for video will go a long way toward not only making your calls work better, but also ensuring they connect seamlessly. For the peering question - if you place a call to a commercial telepresence exchange without the benefit of a connection to the Internet2 Video Exchange, your call will flow over the commodity internet. However, if you place the same call when connected to our Exchange, your call will flow over Internet2 and the application specific peering that we have with that commercial carrier for just this purpose. In short - registering your endpoint is important! If you are still dialing by IP addresses, it’s likely that your configuration is not complete - connecting to the Internet2 Video Exchange is free and you can start the process here.

Think Outside the (Commercial) Box

Commercial video conferencing codecs can do a great job, especially when operating under commodity bandwidth constraints. But as I mentioned above, even the most fancy three-screen telepresence system isn’t going to use more than 2% of the plentiful 1Gbps available through your Ethernet jack. To really start filling the pipe you’ll need to look to some of the non-commercial solutions coming out of the research and education community. A couple of nice examples are LOLA and Ultragrid:

  • LOLA stands for Low Latency audio visual streaming system, and is software developed by the Giuseppe Tartini Music Conservatory in collaboration with GARR, the Italian research and education network. The goal of this project was to create a solution with latency low enough to enable remote simultaneous music performance - and it does this amazingly well, as can be seen in this demonstration from the 2012 Annual Internet2 Meeting. Of course, to achieve this low latency there’s no time for compression - so up to 500Mbps is required. A great way to use that available 1Gbps connection! 
  • Ultragrid was developed by ANTLab in the Czech Republic, with the goal of creating an ultra-high definition video collaboration platform. Originally this meant uncompressed 1080i but as 4k hardware has come down in price adding 4k was a natural fit. Ultragrid can help you make use of that 10Gbps pipe, with bandwidth exceeding 3Gbps for uncompressed 4k - of course you can apply some compression to get it to fit on your 1Gbps link as well. Either way, video conferencing in 4k with minimal compression is an amazing experience.

Any one of these steps can help you to increase the quality of your video collaboration experiences using the plentiful bandwidth you may already have available. If you’re one of the 93,000+ institutions connected to Internet2 - there’s no reason to not fill those pipes!