Imagine Audio Video Conferencing Without Disruptions – We Did!

I have always been fascinated by the way in which real-time streaming technology has evolved. Today this technology can be used to deliver multimedia content simultaneously to participants of a network-based communication. Multimedia content may include audio, video, graphics, animation, images, text, etc. To be effective, streaming multimedia is presented in a continuous fashion, and excessive delays or missing content can be detected by participants. Often, buffering techniques are used to enable a consistent presentation of content, given an inconsistent transmission and receipt of content.

This transmission of multimedia content, which includes audio and video, in real-time to multiple recipients may be referred to as audio-video conferencing. Audio-video conferencing offers a number of advantages such as real-time communication capability between multiple participants, without the delay, cost, scheduling, and travel time of face-to-face meetings. Audio-video conferencing may make use of the Internet and associated Internet protocols to deliver content to the various participants. This greatly extends the connection capability of audio-video conferencing to a worldwide range.

One challenge which I have personally witnessed is that the quality of service in transmitting real-time streaming data over the Internet cannot be guaranteed, and disruptions may be experienced frequently. Disruptions really play a spoilsport in an important meeting where people just get dropped from the video conference.

In some cases the disruption may be of a short duration, but many participants of audio-video conferencing have had frustrating experiences in which the real-time streaming of data failed and the conference was abruptly terminated.

As we all agree that ‘necessity is the mother of invention’, I started my research along with colleagues to try and understand what existing solutions are available to overcome this annoying disruption.

The existing solutions for audio – video conference failover were designed around having a secondary MCU (Multipoint control unit) in case of network failure with the primary MCU. The MCU is a server component which is usually costly hardware requiring a lot of configuration and bandwidth allocation.
Here are some typical examples below:

We felt that there was a need for a solution that would be simple and built with something that we already have. There was a need to design an innovative system and process to join the dots.

The solution we proposed is to utilize the existing resources within the conference, which are generally the client endpoints instead of high end MCUs.

In this new client based MCU selection:

  • The client end points are always available so the system can proactively nominate one of the client endpoints which has conference hosting capability .
  • The conference hosting capability can be judged based on the hardware capability and the network in which the endpoint is located.
  • It would be preferable to have an endpoint which is the moderator of the conference, since the moderator usually stays in the call for the entire duration.
  • Even in the case the moderator leaves the call, a new client endpoint in the conference will be nominated as a secondary MCU.

The solution devised by us offers a number of powerful benefits:

  • Low cost
  • High efficiency
  • Ease of implementation

[Editor’s Note: This blog post describes Sagar’s contribution to the patent ‘Maintaining Audio Video Continuity’ while he was working with his previous employer.]