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IPv6 and its Impact on Videoconferencing

I’m sure most of the people working with technology are familiar with the terms IPv4 and IPv6. In a nutshell – every device connected on a network (Internet or private network) requires an IP address in order to “communicate” to other devices. The current standard for these addresses is called IPv4 (Internet Protocol version 4), and it forms the foundation of most Internet communication today. IPv4 however suffers from several important shortfalls, most importantly the lack of sufficient address space. For that reason, IPv6 was developed which introduces a number of other improvements especially to QoS (Quality of Service) and Security.

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Visualisation on how we are running out of IPv4 addresses (Photo: Abode of Chaos)

In order to utilize a device for a video conference, regardless whether it is a high end video codec or a smartphone, that device needs to be connected to a network, so naturally it will require an IP address. Without going in too much technical details, but still mentioning the most important terms,  let’s see how IPv6 features will affect video communication.

Huge address space

The most important benefit of IPv6 implementations is that it will provide virtually unlimited address space, by introducing 128-bit address, versus the 32-bit address used by IPv4. Just as an analogy, it will be enough to assign IPv6 address to every atom on the earth and still have enough left to do another 100+ earths. This will allow virtually any device in future to be assigned a globally reachable address, which in turn means that NAT (Network Address Translation) will be no longer necessary in the long term, and removing NAT from the equation will solve a lot of the interoperability issues in real-time services such as VoIP and Videoconferencing. It will also be possible to assign multiple network  addresses to devices which means they can stay connected to several different networks at the same time.

Improved Quality of Service (QoS)

Quality of Service refers to the ability of the network to prioritize certain traffic to other and is especially important to VoIP (Voice over IP) and Video Communication, since we don’t want to have any delay here. The way data is transmitted in today’s IP networks is in form of network packets. These packets consist of two parts: packet header – containing control information, and payload – containing the used data. IPv6 improves over IPv4 in terms of QoS is by introducing new field in the packet header called “Flow Label”. This  “label” is used to identify and prioritize certain packet flow, for eg. video stream and allows devices on the same path (routers, switches…) to read the flow label and take appropriate action based on it.

Plug-and-Play support

With IPv6, addresses can be assigned automatically and dynamically by the client device, by getting the network prefix from any router it finds and then generate the full IP address for that network, based on the hardware MAC address. This means there will be no need for DHCP servers like with IPv4, and also less configuration requirements.  DHCPv6 will of course still be available for assigning IPv6 addresses.

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Example of how IPv4 and IPv6 can look (by webopedia.com)

Improved Security

IPv6 will provide better security than IPv4 when it comes to authentication and encryption of the transmitted data. The main reason for that is IPsec – a security protocol that is mandatory for IPv6 systems, and only optional for IPv4 environments. IPsec is defined as a set of security standards, originally written as part of the IPv6 specifications, and allows data to be secured from the originating to the destination host (through the various network elements such as routers, gateways…) by maintaining data confidentiality, integrity and authentication at the network layer. Another security improvement comes from the fact that IPv6 subnets will be so large so any attempt for hackers to scan them searching for a specific host will be ineffective.

Improved Mobility

Mobility refers to the ability of a device to move between different IP networks and still maintain the same IP address. This is very important for IP enabled real-time communication services, no one wants to be disconnected from a call while moving from one physical location to another. For that purpose, the Mobile IP protocol was designed by IETF. This protocol was further enhanced with Mobile IPv6 and Hierarchical Mobile IPv6 (HMIPv6) which propose higher level of security and more efficient data transmitting.

Big packets and improved routing

Another benefit to visual communications is IPv6 support for very big packet payloads, up to 4 billion bytes (IPv4 supports up to 65535 bytes only). With bandwidth becoming cheaper and the increase in device processing power, supporting big packets delivery  will be important when dealing with high quality multimedia content of the future. Even though the packet can be a lot bigger than in IPv4 systems, the actual routing of the information is improved due to the simplified packet header and structured approach to addressing, which reduces the amount of information network routers must store and leads to faster packet forwarding.

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When should we implement IPv6 and with what approach? (Photo: ºNit Soto)

Migration considerations

When talking about IPv6 impact on the network, it is very important to consider the  migration strategy as well, from Ipv4 to IPv6. Basically there are three ways to manage this: dual-stack implementation where all the network components and devices support both IPv4 and IPv6, tunneling – is implementation method where IPv4 packets get encapsulated and transported over IPv6 network backbone, and proxy translation – where network border element performs the mapping of packets from one IP version to another.

Outlook

Most likely, providers and businesses will opt to upgrade the existing network infrastructure to dual stack in order to support both customers. Some network elements that do not support dual-stack mode will have to be upgraded or replaced and new infrastructure that will be deployed will have to support IPv6 dual stack from the beginning.

Each migration strategy will definitely introduce certain level of latency in the network, so that is just a reason more that all services must be properly tested before a production rollout.

How to become a Videoconferencing Expert

I will start this article by answering what exactly is an expert – to me it’s a person who is really really good at something. Simple as that. This post is only about my thoughts on what it takes for a person to become such, not how he uses his expertise.

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There is more to becoming an expert than this.

I agree with the assumption that all humans are born as “tabula rasa” (lat. blank state), meaning all their knowledge comes from learning, experience and perception, but with genetics playing significant role in the process. Unfortunately, not all people take advantage of the amazing opportunities that lie ahead of them in becoming really good in something they love doing, often due to fear of failure. But failure is not something to be feared of, on the contrary, as Thomas Edison said:

“I have not failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Every person can be good at anything, good in so many things at the same time. But becoming really good at anything isn’t just a walk in the park. It takes discipline, focus and more importantly a strong will to make it happen.

So how does one become expert at anything? Well, I believe the formula is pretty much the same for any skill you choose. Since this is a Unified Communications blog and it happens to be the field that I’m currently working in, I’m going to point out what I consider to be important in becoming a Videoconferencing Expert.

Videoconferencing Education

I believe education is the first step in becoming good at something. Once you identify your objective and set your goals, you have to start preparing for reaching that goal, show genuine interest in learning all the bits and pieces that are related to what you really want to do, in this case Video Conferencing. I’m talking about harvesting knowledge you can use from every source you can get your hands on: specialized courses , forums, blogs, whitepapers, industry reports, product guides…

When it comes to official training, major industry leaders like Cisco and Polycom are already offering specialized training programs for anyone interested in becoming engineering or sales expert in Videoconferencing / Unified Communications and these certifications are usually valid for 2-3 years in order to keep up with the latest trends in the industry.

Cisco recently added two new programs to their certification portfolio focusing on Video, which already included the Cisco TelePresence Solutions Specialist and Cisco Rich Media Communications Specialist:

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CCNA Logo by Cisco

  • CCNA Video establishes an individual’s ability to deploy video endpoints, set up new users, and operate networked voice and video solutions for job duties that include configuring voice and video single-screen endpoint devices, supporting telephony and video applications, and troubleshooting. The certification also validates a candidate’s knowledge of the architecture, components, functionalities and features of Cisco Unified Communications Manager solutions.
  • Cisco Video Network Specialist establishes and enhances key skills including the ability to configure video single-screen endpoints, set up new user accounts, support video applications and troubleshoot networked video solutions.
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Polycom Logo

Polycom is offering the Polycom Certified Videoconferencing Engineer – a program that confirms the successful candidate has the necessary knowledge to perform implementation, configuration and troubleshooting operations for small to medium-sized environments on the Polycom RealPresence Platform including. In addition, the PCVE exam will validate the individual’s knowledge of networking models, standards and protocols relevant to videoconferencing.

Plenty of free training material is also available on the Internet. Personally, I liked the old Tandberg Certified Expert Partner (TCPE) program, simple and straight to the point, it’s perfect to gain the necessary technical knowledge when it comes to Video Communication.

Forums such as the VTCtalk and the Cisco Support Community are a great place for promoting and  sharing knowledge and engage other experts in constructive conversations about topics of the Videoconferencing / Unified Communications industry. There are also great groups on videoconferencing business and technology available on LinkedIn for anyone to join and listen or contribute.

Working Experience

It has been said many times before – no amount of theoretical knowledge compares to a real world experience, no matter what field are you part of. If you’re just starting in the industry, try an entry-level position and work your way from the bottom up. There are also companies who first offer training to their personnel for couple of months, and then make hiring decision, this is another good way of getting practical work experience.

And once you get there, try to learn as much as possible, try to learn everything you can about the topic, focus on becoming better and better until you become “so good they can’t ignore you”.

The constant hunger for knowledge is what separates experts from…well, everyone else. The beauty when working with technology is that it changes constantly, there is always something new to digest. Personally, I don’t understand how some people are pretty content with doing the same thing day by day. There is much more you can do, if you want to. The internet is there, the books are written and there are heaps of people to talk to, who are more than happy to engage in discussions – so jump right into it and become an expert!

I am going to end this post with two quotes from people who were really good at something and accomplished a lot:

“Action is the foundational key to all success.” – Pablo Picasso

“An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.” – Benjamin Franklin

Software MCU Comparison – What does the market offer?

A Videoconference Multipoint Control Unit (MCU) is a crucial part of every serious Videoconference infrastructure. It’s a system used to connect multiple media streams into a single Videoconference, therefore very often the MCU is referred to as a “bridge”.

The traditional MCU is a DSP (digital signal processing) based hardware whose primary functionality is to decode all incoming media streams, compose a single stream for each far-end participant and finally re-encode that stream before sending it out, needless to say all this requires a huge amount of processing power. More over, hardware-based MCUs define scalability on a per-port basis, which means if we want to have more participants connected in a Videoconference at the same time, we need MCUs with more video ports i.e. more DSPs and DSP hardware does not come cheap.

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LifeSize UVC Multipoint used on a Tablet

That is why a lot of companies are turning their attention towards a new type of product when it comes to multipoint Videconferences – the so-called “software MCU” or soft-MCU. A soft-MCU serves the same purpose as the hardware-based, except that all the transcoding and signal processing is done in the software which introduces big advantages in terms of cost, scalability and flexibility.

The soft-MCU eliminates the need for DSP hardware and can run on virtualized servers on private or public clouds, therefore it is significantly cheaper to deploy than the expensive hardware MCU. In terms of scalability, customers can often just purchase the number of ports they require at the time and then scale up or down easily as the need changes. Software MCUs offer also more flexible deployment, updates and feature enhancements are easy and more frequent, which gives them advantage in today’s fast evolving demands in the Videoconferencing world. Manufacturers can offer the soft-MCU for on-premise deployment on company’s internal servers (usually preferred by enterprises) but the lower end of the group video conferencing market will also benefit from the hosted services (cloud services) offered by providers.

Current market of Software MCU solutions

Although still in relatively early phase in terms of adoption, the market is all but short in offering soft-MCUs solutions for multipoint Videoconferencing. Some of them offered as pure software to be installed on industry-standard servers, some of them require some sort of hardware usually from the same provider which makes them a kind of  “hybrid” solution. I will just go briefly through some of the most talked about products out there at the moment:

 Avistar

Avistar offers the Avistar C3 Conference, a software-based MCU that runs on standard off-the-shelf hardware and operating system software, and on virtualized servers. It is mainly designed for on-premise deployment in enterprise environments, but service providers offering managed Videoconferencing services could also take advantage from it.

Each conference server can support up to 12 ports of simultaneous conferencing, video standards supported are H.263 and H.264 up to 1024 kbps call rate per endpoint with 30 fps.

 Polycom

The Polycom RealPresence Collaboration Server 800s, Virtual Edition is a multi-protocol, integrated, software-based multipoint MCU running on x86 servers. Mainly designed for mid-sized enterprises or to expand an existing RealPresence Collaboration Server (RMX) environment, it provides open standards scalable video coding (SVC) support and interoperability with systems that use advanced video coding (AVC). It can support up to 40 H.263 or H.264 video ports with 720p and 30 fps.

 Vidyo

Vidyo solution consists of Vidyo Router at its center, offered also as a virtual edition (VE), which performs transcoding-free packet switching using their patented Adaptive Video Layering (AVL) technology which introduces low-latency video-streams for endpoints over any IP network. It can be deployed on industry standard servers and is “VMware Ready” certified. Interoperability with legacy systems requires the use of VidyoGateway. The VidyoRouter VE comes in two models – VE 100 and VE 25 offering 100 and 25 concurrent HD connections respectively, supporting native rate and resolution matching per endpoint, up to 1440p at 60fps. Vidyo technology is available through service providers such as Videoconference24.

 Pexip

Pexip is a new start-up that offers pure-software based MCU called Infinity, which will be available from September. It can be deployed on industry-standard servers in a VMware virtualized environment and port capacity can be easily scaled up by adding more servers. It will support H.263 and H.264, SVC, VP8 video codecs as well as interoperability with WebRTC and Lync. We are yet to see how this product will perform in the real-world but it definitely looks promising with of supporting wide range of software clients and endpoints.

Acano

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Acana Software MCU Example

Acano is also also a new player in the industry, offering software solution that unites “previously incompatible audio, video and web technologies” in “coSpaces” which are essentially cloud virtual meeting rooms. People can use whatever devices they have to call into a coSpace, including mobile phones, tablets, PCs, Microsoft Lync clients or video endpoints. Designed for the x86 architecture, it runs on their optimized hardware, standard servers, as well as in virtualized environments and can support thousands of users per server, with further scale and resilience provided by native clustering. Major video standards are supported including H.264 AVC, SVC, WebM / VP8, Microsoft RTVideo, and said to support H.265 as well.

 Vidtel

Vidtel is primarily a service provider; does not offer soft-MCU for on-premise enterprise deployment, but they do offer hosted cloud Videoconferencing solution, labeled MeetMe – it’s a cloud-based, “any-to-any” video conferencing service which supports interoperability between SIP, H.323, Google Talk, Skype, and WebRTC. It supports up to 20 video conferencing endpoints with 720p. The infrastructure for video conferencing is hosted on a Vidtel central cloud and each participant is given a private meeting room ID and a login PIN; they use this to join the Vidtel MeetMe meeting and start communicating and interacting almost as if they were in the same office.

 LifeSize

LifeSize UVC Multipoint is a software-MCU that can be installed on industry-standard servers. It supports H.263 and H.264, SVC video standards and interoperability with Lync (Microsoft RTVideo). Customers can purchase and scale one port at a time and administrators can selectively control the quality and capacity of each port, ranging from 360p for mobile users to 1080p for room-based environments (with the Enterprise edition) and maximum of 128 participants in a single conference.

 Cisco

Cisco became the undisputed king in Videoconferencing hardware, with the acquisition of Tandberg, but they do not offer software-MCU that can be deployed on-premise. They do however offer cloud Videoconferencing service called – Cisco WebEx Telepresence, which can support up to 12 participants per conference with 1080p. At the moment it’s only available in the U.S. and Canada.

 Blue Jeans Network

Blue Jeans – similar to Vidtel, Blue Jeans is a service provider offering hosted hosted video bridging with multi-vendor interoperability including Skype and Lync. Also they are the developers of their own solution and allow re-selling. It supports up to 25 participants per meeting with 720p at 30 fps  and offers easy web based management capabilities for administrators as well as reporting capabilities.

 Avaya / Radvision

Avaya / Radvision is offering the Elite 6000 Series – software-based hybrid multi-point control unit providing high port density up to 40 full 1080p HD ports (80 720p) on a single 1U system. All the major video standards are supported as well as interoperability with other vendors.

As we can see there are lots of different flavors and there are more solutions out there, opening new opportunities for those who could not own standalone MCU before. It’s hard to say what the future holds, certainly it’s too early to dismiss hardware-based MCUs in which companies have invested a lot of money. It’s clear that the two solutions will coexist for some time and it’s up to the customers to choose the best solution for their business based on their requirements in usage, cost and features.


Software MCU Example Video by Pexip

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dA2oh-4A8Qg&w=575]