Understanding Bandwidth Requirements for Video Conferencing

Ryan Murphy
February 6, 2020

If you’re in the process of evaluating video conferencing solutions, part of your consideration must include bandwidth requirements. They vary from solution to solution. They vary based on the video endpoints you want to use. They vary based on the resolution quality and frame-rate, the overall quality of call you want to host.

There is a lot to consider, and I won’t be providing any hard numbers in this blog. They’re not very helpful in a vacuum anyway, and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to “how much bandwidth do I need?” In the end, your best bet is to talk to a full-service provider – someone who understands devices, setup, bridging solutions, and the network required to support it.

So let’s take a look at the factors that affect the amount of bandwidth you will need to have available. But first:

What does “Bandwidth” refer to?

Bandwidth refers to how much data can be transmitted to and from the internet per second. It’s often referred to as your “connection speed,” but that can be misleading. A connection is likely to be shared by several devices, meaning that it becomes more of a conversation about volume.

For instance, let’s say your “connection speed” is 1Gb per second. Yes, one device could monopolize that 1Gb connection if it has the need/capability, but it would likely use less than that. Multiple devices can share in that 1Gb: this one using 500Mb, this one using only 15Mb and so on. The question of having enough bandwidth is whether or not there are enough Kbps available per function per device that share that connection.

With that in mind, let’s talk about gauging bandwidth requirements for video conferencing. The first consideration: how do you mean to connect?

Bandwidth requirements based on device

This used to be a much more complicated consideration. Once upon a time, when you had to own a bridge (aka a “multipoint control unit” or “MCU”) in order to hold video calls, you had to consider how many bridge connections you might have on a given call, and how many concurrent calls you might have on that bridge. You needed enough bandwidth to support the maximum possible number of connections at any given time. And that was a LOT.

Nowadays, video calls are usually hosted on a virtual bridge. That’s the “cloud” in cloud video conferencing. Now all you have to consider how much bandwidth it will take to connect your devices to a call. And of course how many devices in your office might be using that connection at a time.

A service’s minimums are usually pretty reasonable; service providers want to offer a platform that works in most environments, including those without access to high bandwidths. But in cases where the goal is higher-quality video calls, higher bandwidth speeds are a must.

Bandwidth requirements based on call quality: Resolution and Frame Rate

Higher quality means higher bandwidth requirements. Better resolution and higher frame rates require a lot more data per second.

This is fairly straightforward – the more pixels on a screen, the more information is required to fill them. A standard HD display has a little over 2 million pixels. A 4K display has almost 9 million. That’s 4 times as much visual data to transfer. And the refresh rate – how many frames are shown per second, given in FPS – needs twice as much data going from 30FPS to 60FPS.

Now, if your room is optimized for it and you have the bandwidth to support it, better resolution and higher FPS make for a more lifelike representation of the folks on video. Closer to feeling like you’re in the same room. And isn’t that the point?

What happens when you don’t have enough bandwidth?

Call quality degrades quickly if you do not have the bandwidth to support it. You witness:

  • Pixelation
  • Packet-loss
  • A drop in frame rate, freezing
  • Dropped calls

Solutions like RP1Cloud use templates to offer an optimal experience at certain bandwidth thresholds. One size does not fit all. And by using a type of compression call SVC (Scalable Video Coding), it mitigates the effect of dropping below said thresholds. A call will not drop, for instance; instead, the resolution or the frame rate drops. This is particularly helpful when you might have a lot of traffic chewing up your bandwidth.

Getting the right solution for your network environment

The bottom line is this: gauge the amount of concurrent video connection you may hit at any given time. Check your current speeds and network environment. Take those numbers to potential service providers and ask them to explain how they can optimize your call experience.

And work with a full-service conferencing provider; ideally someone who knows video hardware and cloud solutions. They’re the ones that can make sure that your video experience fits the room/space you want to put it in with the right equipment, and that you have the bandwidth to support it. They can also typically recommend bolstering what you have available.

There are a lot of moving parts when setting up a video conferencing solution, and no easy answer that says “if you want this resolution, you need this much bandwidth.” Trust someone who knows the devices and solution, and networking in general, to set you on the right track.

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