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Is your network ready for HD videoconferencing?

Wide Area Networking Alert By Jim Metzler and Steve Taylor, Network World
September 01, 2010 12:08 AM ET
Jim Metzler
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Insightful analysis by consultants Steve Taylor and Jim Metzler, plus links to the latest WAN news headlines

Over the years, the use of videoconferencing has been touted as the "next big thing," and, indeed, we are now seeing great advances. In particular, the emergence of telepresence stands ready to finally have a major impact on the way we do business. (Note: There seems to be some confusion in the industry about exactly what "telepresence" is. From our perspective, telepresence used as generic term is any high-definition (or at least "broadcast quality) video with high quality audio. TelePresence with a capital "T" and "P" refers to Cisco's particular implementation and productization of telepresence.)

The topic before us today is whether your network infrastructure is ready for supporting telepresence and HD-video. Surprisingly, we bet that your network is already in pretty good shape, and that it came about without extensive planning. Here's the scoop.

Looking back about 20 or so years, there actually was a time that some of us can remember when voice consumed more network bandwidth than data did. Among the reasons were the rudimentary needs for data communications, the fact that we were content with simple applications (by today's standards), and voice always consuming at least 64kbps of dedicated bandwidth per conversation.

Videoconferencing in high definition

But rather quickly data usage expanded (and continues to expand) exponentially. Odds are really good that your cell phone now has more data transmission capability than a major corporate data center had 25 years ago. And if you're old enough to remember when a T-1/E-1 line was considered to be "fast," then you're surely amazed by today's bandwidth to the average household.

The net result of this is that the bandwidth needed for voice is a VERY small percentage of bandwidth consumption.

But what about HD video conferencing? It's our contention that we're getting close to it also fitting into the noise in network bandwidth.

Let's look at a little history again. Fifteen to 20 years ago, having "broadcast quality" video consumed at least 45Mbps, and this was at a time when a "T-3" line was still quite expensive – generally thousands of dollars per month. Further, this was for a single connection, and the quality was at a level that we generally would not consider to be acceptable today.

But if we fast-forward to today's nets, we see (finally) the magical convergence of HD (at least 720p) video being readily available for inexpensive use, and the bandwidth needed to support this level of conferencing is a small fraction of corporate needs.

Of course, the traffic shaping for video will remain an issue. However, this should already be a part of your application performance procedures. Consequently, it's our belief that as you move toward integration of HD video into your application infrastructure for UC, having appropriate network bandwidth should be a non-issue.

Read more about lans & wans in Network World's LANs & WANs section.

Steve Taylor is president of Distributed Networking Associates and publisher/editor-in-chief of Webtorials. Jim Metzler is vice president of Ashton, Metzler & Associates.

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