WebRTC

A Quick Guide: Professional Videoconferencing through Your Browser

By Tom Banks

 

With the help of a technology called WebRTC (or web real-time communication), almost anyone can join a video meeting using a web browser. With a desktop or laptop, it’s easy for users to join a video conference with multiple participants in a virtual meeting room or “VMR” (as opposed to a more traditional 1:1 type call you might associate with an online calling service like Skype).

As long as the user has an up to date browser and a broadband connection that’s all that’s required. This makes WebRTC ideal for many businesses wanting to connect with people since they can invite anyone to a meeting as all that’s needed is the unique link for the virtual room. This flexibility is great for dealing with users all wanting to join with different devices, or for people who are outside your company’s regular internal networks (guest users).

 

That sounds pretty straightforward. Is there more I should know?

Whilst WebRTC is a great development for video, there’s a bit more to cracking professional video communications than simply getting everyone to sign up to an online meeting service or inviting guests. Below, we answer seven of the most common questions and issues around using a web browser to join and host professional video calls and meetings:

 

1. Do I have to use a special browser?

Most major browsers support WebRTC in some shape or form. With Apple adding WebRTC functionality to the latest iOS11 release of Safari, you can take your pick from Chrome, Firefox, Safari, Opera, IE, or Edge. The user experience can vary very slightly with each browser’s set up, but most people should be able to get started with video meetings with minimal fuss using their preferred browser.

 

Want to learn about videoconferencing in action? Download free case study

 

2. Do I need to download anything?

You don’t need to download any proprietary software to use WebRTC, which is one of its great advantages. But you will normally need to install some kind of browser extension or plugin to ensure full functionality, such as performing screen sharing. This should not take more than a few seconds and only needs to done once for each browser (since each plugin or extension is specific to the browser not the video platform or service you're using).

 

 3. Does WebRTC use the public internet?

The network used will depend on the platform or video service you’re using. Most free services will use the public internet to execute your call and transmit the voice and video data. However, professional videoconferencing providers that support WebRTC will connect you from the public internet into a dedicated cloud network designed specifically for videoconferencing.

This has two distinct advantages:

(i) Better video quality. Live video data is particularly sensitive to lag, or latency. Disruptions will lead to poor quality video and audio. Using a public network means your video data is competing with all the other traffic on the network. A professional videoconferencing provider uses a dedicated cloud network specifically designed to carry live video. By using WebRTC to connect into such a network, you’ll get more enhanced video performance.

(ii) Better security. Professional video providers using their own cloud network can provide a level of security and encryption that platforms relying only on public networks can’t offer.

 

Related: Why Poor Quality Video is Ruining Your Video Meetings (and what to do about it) 

 

 4. Do we need more than WebRTC?

WebRTC is a great, low threshold solution if your organization hasn’t used videoconferencing before, or if you’re planning on using video meetings only occasionally. However, the best option is to choose a video solution that supports WebRTC alongside other types of video platforms. Within videoconferencing we refer to this kind of functionality as “interoperability”, which essentially means that a platform can connect users on different devices and technologies all at the same time into the same video call.

Having WebRTC as part of your video solution, rather than being your only video platform gives you a more robust video communication tool as it makes it easier to connect to more video users on different networks, as well as additional functionality such as streaming and recording for your video meetings or centralized scheduling and user management workflows.

 

5. Will WebRTC work behind my company firewall?

There is no one size fits all answer to this; WebRTC requires a lot of “open” ports to work correctly and the settings if your firewall will determine how many ports are open for you to use. If you have a strong firewall on your company network the best solution is to choose a service provider offering firewall traversal. Not every video platform will offer this, but it means they take care of the tricky technical stuff of finding the right ports to connect you safely whilst maintaining your firewall setup, making it easy for both your regular users and guests to join a meeting in seconds.

 

6. Does it matter which device I use?

The great thing about WebRTC is that pretty much anyone can join a video meeting in seconds with just a few clicks. So long as you have a webcam and a mic. However, it’s worth remembering that the quality of your camera and microphone will impact the quality of your call. On newer laptops and desktops, inbuilt cameras have improved quite a bit in recent years, but an inexpensive or older model may give a less than optimal experience. And it’s very common for users to use headphones with WebRTC; if you plan to do so then it’s always worth checking the quality of the inbuilt microphone to check that people don’t struggle to hear you clearly, especially in environments with lots background noise.

  

7. How fast does my internet connection need to be?

The good news is that most local internet networks nowadays will be fast enough to provide stable, good quality video performance. For a standard definition (SD) connection, you would need around 768 kbps, which most networks can manage.

Remember, with a live video call, your upload speed is as important as your download speed, since how fast you can upload will affect the quality of your picture for the other people in the call. And for networks where speed might be a problem, for example a slow hotel wifi service, some video platforms will let you alter your bandwidth settings, between low, medium or high. This works well for slower networks since a lower bandwidth speed with decrease the picture quality slightly but give you a more stable connection.

Another quick tip to help improve your call experience: (Especially at home) where possible use a wired or ethernet connection instead of wifi. A wired connection should always be a little bit faster, but sometimes can be a lot quicker than a wifi network, since many factors can interfere with your wifi signal. If you want to test the speed of your local network connection you can use a tool like Speedtest by Ookla.

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by Tom Banks

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