Insights

The Internet is Killing your Virtual Event

November 3, 2020

The Internet is Killing your Virtual Event

Since we all started working from home, I can imagine all of us have been hampered by the one thing that makes remote work a potential pain point for us all.

The Internet Sucks!

Like most of you, we needed to upgrade our internet connection as soon as possible, to make sure, not only we could keep doing our work but that everyone in the house could keep having video calls and FaceTime with the grandparents, watch Netflix (a parental saviour if you have small kids) and not go stir crazy.

As the events industry moved into a virtual world we started thinking more and more about networking technology than we ever thought we would have to. Site advances turned into speed tests and video calls with speakers and presenters to make sure they could be seen and heard. Planners and producers are struggling to manage internet traffic.

In an ideal world everyone would have all sorts of internet at their disposal and you could rely on it every second of everyday. Unfortunately, the reality of the internet is killing your virtual and hybrid events. Here are a few things to remember when planning your event that will set you up for success.


TYPES OF INTERNET CONNECTION

In North America, there are a few typical types of internet connection you can get. Within a building or home, the internet comes thought a public switch through either a Fiber or Copper Connection. The maximum you can get out of a copper connection is 250Mbps (megabytes per second). Fiber can handle significantly higher amounts of data and usually come in 1Gbps per second and 2Gbps. Just remember that that is how it gets to you modem in the building. Once you connect a router to that, the internet connection you have between your device and the output depends on that router. For example, if you have a 1GB connection but a router that only handles 250mps then that is all you will get to your device.

There are other networks that you can connect to wirelessly throughout most cities. 4G LTE and 5G are cell networks that are available for you to connect to, but those tend to be cost prohibitive for streaming video and audio as you are charged per MB and GB.

DO NOT USE WIFI

Whatever you do for your event, do not use wifi. Seriously, we all know how convenient it is to connect to wifi in your house to go wireless throughout your space. The freedom is amazing. For virtual events where the connection to your network has to be as stable as possible, wifi is unreliable. Make a plan to ensure that every device that is part of your production workflow is connected to a hardwire direct connection to your output router. 

THE 50% RULE

Whatever internet connection you may have, it is not as strong as you may think. Whether your connection is fiber or copper, everything goes through a public switch, or node, through your internet service provider (ISP). This applies even when you have a “dedicated” service in a venue. It may be free of additional traffic within the building, however, once that leaves the building it needs to route through your ISP’s switches to get to the destination. The reality of this, means that if there is additional traffic in the vicinity of that switch, your bandwidth will be reduced to not overload the public switch.

The result of this is the 50% rule on internet connections when it comes to virtual events. This means if you need 1Gbps of synchronous connection (Upload and Download Speed), you can only count on half of it (500Mbbs) within a single connection. Once you do the math of how much bandwidth you need, you will effectively need to double it to guarantee that it works. 

KNOW HOW YOU ARE STREAMING

Different streaming technologies require different connection speeds. RTMP (Real-Time Messaging Protocol), which is the most common protocol between you and your streaming service needs a minimum of 5Mbps up to 25-30Mbps for a single connection. Although that seems small in comparison to the ones we will list shortly, RTMP is an old protocol that is used mostly for preloaded videos on a server and a low bandwidth and latency transmission. Youtube uses RTMP to transport your video out to a viewer through their app and web-based player, but for realtime video, it adds so much latency and delay in the signal it is unusable.

SRT (Secure Reliable Transport) is a the next big standard in streaming. Although most Output platforms still use RTMP, getting your content to the platform with reduced latency and delay is imperative. SRT requires a minimum 30Mbps. This is why it is used in major productions and live news streaming. Whenever you see a contributor or remote pick up on a live news broadcast, or a stream from a live show, it is being transported via SRT to a production truck or studio, then sent out from that location to a RTMP upload.

NDI (Network Device Interface) allows us to connect sources over the internet in real time between that location and the production switcher. However, the bandwidth requirement for each ingest and output stream is very high, up to 120Mbps. 

Going back to the 50% rule above, if you have an output stream on RTMP ~25Mbsp, three input streams (remote contributors) on SRT ~90Mbps and and NDI stream form a remote studio ~120Mbps, we are already at 310Mbps. Factor in multiview streams to each location (SRT ~120Mbps) and Communications, for example Clear-COM over IP at (15Mbps), and we have already eaten up all of the guaranteed bandwidth on that single 1GB connection.

SPEED TESTS

For each location your are streaming content from, whether that is someone’s home, office or a studio, you need to conduct a detailed speed test. Most of these can be done from a browser vie a google speed test, however, something like the google speed test is not testing specifics of your network. 

Your ISP will also have a page that you can access via a browser to test your speed. The ISP test will have virtual access to your main connection and your device to connection test as well.

A good medium solution for ease of result is a program like Ookla. Ookla tracks a direct connection to your nearest public switch.

Internet Speed Test 2

Just remember that whatever number you get, cut it in half and that is the guaranteed bandwidth that you can count on. As you can see form the results above they can be different depending on what service you use.

GARBAGE IN GARBAGE OUT

Finally, and this should be one that we all get, if the image quality that you are trying to transmit up to the internet is of poor quality, your internet connection will actually be working harder. If your video device is sending low light levels and bad audio embedded into a signal, the processing on wither end needs more bandwidth to ensure it can interpret what you are sending. The more bad date into the stream, the more data is needed to render it in realtime via the codec.

When producing virtual events, we never thought we would need to be IT professionals concentrating on bandwidth to this degree, however, like not paying attention to a colour scheme or a theme messaging, this can be a potential killing blow to the success of your event.

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