Desktop video conferencing and calling are increasingly integrated into desktop unified communications suites, making elevating a voice call to video as simple as a mouse click or a keystroke.
High-definition video and voice transport systems, which can require as much as 4 to 6 Mbps of bandwidth, place a heavy burden on networks. This is a huge increase from the approximately 128 Kbps of bandwidth earlier systems used.
"Video conferencing consumes significant bandwidth and, unless an enterprise is prepared, it can cause problems within a network if users are competing for limited bandwidth," said Bern Elliot, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner Research.
This begs the question: Are enterprises ready and willing to support the bandwidth appetite of desktop video conferencing?
"Companies are trying to justify the bandwidth," said Irwin Lazar, vice president and service director at Nemertes Research. "There's a perception that video conferencing apps like Skype and YouTube improve collaboration. Interest in desktop video conferencing is definitely growing." These technologies are a "killer app" because they "help remote workers actively participate in room-based meetings," he added.
Most enterprises know what they need to do to support desktop video conferencing, but some are balking at the cost and limiting its use. "If it was free everyone would want it, but there's still significant interest in adoption of desktop video conferencing," said Elliot.
Since desktop video conferencing use is only expected to increase, do strategies to control bandwidth growth exist? Yes -- enterprises can use a variety of tools for admission control and managing traffic.
Policy-based admission control is a key tool enterprises can use to limit who has access to bandwidth and how much. "Policies can be built around individual job classifications, locations or codes," Elliot said.
Bandwidth utilization, which is slightly different from admission control, allows enterprises to limit the amount of bandwidth for specific applications. "This doesn't just place a limit on the number of users on your network, it enables traffic management by selecting the amount of bandwidth to make available," explained Elliot.
Video coding standards also play a key role in helping enterprises keep pace with increasing bandwidth demand. For example, "High Efficiency Video Coding" or H.265 that the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) recently ratified requires only 50% of the bit rate of its predecessor, H.264.
"New algorithms are constantly being developed to provide the same quality at lower bandwidth," said Andrew W. Davis, senior partner at Wainhouse Research. "This is the normal state of progress -- taking advantage of increasing power available on silicon to address bandwidth consumption."
Impact of video apps
Are the proliferation of video apps such as Skype and Apple's FaceTime affecting bandwidth? Not as much as you might expect.
Because they're designed to run over the public Internet, most consumer video apps "run at low bandwidth and can be easily shut down" by the enterprise, according to Davis.
"If properly managed, video apps can be effective enterprise tools. They create vulnerabilities if improperly managed," said Elliot. "It's important that everyone run the most recent releases to avoid vulnerabilities."