How To Stop Video From Killing Work-from-home
Tens of thousands of firms are shifting hundreds of thousands of workers from commercial and industrial locations to working from home. Those workers are bringing home not only their typical daily workloads; they also bring massive use of video. And that is straining some networks to the breaking point, disrupting workers’ connection to the business, and disturbing workflows as a result.
User enterprises love video. Its use is widely promoted for communication internally and externally, for interpersonal calls, group meetings, training, and streaming live events. But standard-definition video (under 720p) uses more than 1,200 times the bandwidth used by voice and traditional productivity applications like Microsoft Office. High-def (e.g., 4K) video uses nearly 15,000 times the bandwidth that Office requires.
This is disruptive because residential areas rarely are set up to support the flow of data that commercial and industrial telecom infrastructures enable. Even where residences directly connect to fiber-optic broadband circuits, the newly-increased number of WFH connections with video traffic quickly fills available bandwidth. Speed per user goes down to the point where connections become spotty at best, and eventually, unusable. The net result: connectivity becomes inconsistent, and workflows are disrupted.
From the network provider side
One positive outcome from the current crisis should be increased carrier investment In more (and more reliable) bandwidth to enable better business continuity and interpersonal communications. That, of course, will take years in most cases. Right now, here’s what we see carriers doing and planning to mitigate the immediate WFH impact:
- Splitting frequencies and lowering quality of service. This is far from optimal, but does allow more concurrent users and greater network speeds.
- Prioritizing bandwidth. In some markets, carriers guarantee bandwidth for premium accounts by prioritizing their network access. This penalizes general public users, and is a highly contentious topic in markets like the U.S. In fact, dozens of U.S. carriers have agreed not to prioritize bandwidth and to cap rates during the coronavirus emergency.
- Software-defined network (SDN) architectures and management systems can mitigate some of the issues in some cases by dynamically allocating bandwidth to high-use areas. But this only works where carriers have implemented these capabilities.
- Expanding interconnect agreements. Network operators contract with one another to allow fast interconnect and switching, so that an overloaded network in one area can offload to a less-loaded network when the service level drops to an unacceptable point. This approach, unfortunately, will not work well in areas where all carriers are overloaded.
- Accelerating infrastructure. Carriers can add hardware to masts, and add flexibility and capacity at points of presence and central offices, including investing more (and more rapidly) in SDN and other NextGen capabilities. This longer-term approach requires substantial investment and regulatory consent. But carriers right now may find local, state/provincial, and national regulators more open to discussion.
From the user enterprise side
What can user enterprises do in the meantime? .
- Limit the requirement for, and use of, videoconferencing. Too many firms require remote workers to maintain open video calls throughout the workday. Messaging and chat apps suffice for updates and checking in during the average day. And if you must meet in groups, traditional voice-only conference calls still work well.
- While you’re at it – reduce the number and scope of meetings. Slack, Yammer et al enable topic-centered and team-specific discussion and file sharing. And email still works great for basic communication, and even for file sharing in many cases.
- Zip it. Rather than stream video for training (or other purposes), compress the video file and share it. DropBox, Box.com, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive and many others exist to make this easy.
- Get fuzzy. When video MUST be used, have remote workers reduce the video resolution used by conferencing and other apps (including social networks and streaming services). No one needs 4K resolution for a Monday morning staff meeting.
As the current crisis resolves, we expect to see WFH vastly expanded and normalized for more knowledge workers in more markets. Telephony infrastructure, and how it is used, will be critical factors in whether or not that reality develops. Look to The Analyst Syndicate for ongoing guidance in WFH program development and optimization.
Thanks to global telephony expert Dr. Kenn Walters of Globus Consulting for his input on this post.