We’ve all experienced stalls, stutters, and severed connections on Wi-Fi and cellular data networks. For consumers, re-starting, waiting, or trying again later is mostly an annoyance. However, in a business setting, these kinds of interruptions become a real inhibitor to personal productivity, team collaboration, and customer experience.
This issue has become even more pronounced in recent years as employees increase their dependence on both mobile networks and real-time apps. That’s because the single most important factor for quality on Skype, WebEx, Spark, and others, is the end-to-end network connection. If it’s not reliable, your employee’s contributions won’t be either.
As the number of mobile users depending on streaming and other real-time apps continues to grow, the impact of connectivity problems will only get worse. Thankfully, there are several approaches to overcoming the increasing congestion on Wi-Fi and cellular networks.
Some quick fixes that provide instant relief, include:
Employee training: Employees don’t always know what they can do to optimize their connection or what they might be inadvertently doing to make it worse. Businesses should share best practices with employees during orientation training or offer helpful tips when they open trouble tickets.
For example, if an employee working from home is having trouble staying connected to a video conference on their Wi-Fi network, are they simultaneously downloading a huge file? Are others in the house streaming YouTube videos or using Skype? Giving employees pointers on what they can do to improve their app performance is a good start.
Bandwidth expansion: Expanding the capacity of the networks the company or employee operates (home Wi-Fi) is another approach. But it’s not possible to increase the bandwidth of the networks that typically pose the most challenges–public Wi-Fi or carrier networks. A business simply can’t augment a network it doesn’t own or control.
But there are ways for businesses to optimize the way real-time apps work on third-party networks in order to minimize disruptions and improve performance.
Traffic-shaping tools: Traffic shaping is a way of controlling the rate of application traffic, separating it into individual queues and managing each queue differently. This minimizes the impact of physical or logical system bottlenecks, resulting in less jitter, reduced packet loss, and lower latency for high priority queues. Higher priority queues have greater access to system CPU utilization and network bandwidth and are serviced more frequently than lower priority queues.
A traffic shaping priority is active when an application is launched and maintains this value until the application is restarted. When a higher priority application is no longer active, lower priority applications run without restriction.
WAN optimization or SD-WAN technologies: There are many behaviors of TCP/IP that make it less than optimal in a wireless environment. WAN optimization is a proven approach to reducing network consumption and improving throughput and application responsiveness, particularly over bandwidth-constrained or wireless networks.
This includes reducing the number of retransmitted packets, excess control information, and other network "chatter," and dramatically improving throughput by compressing data and images. This framework also allows that the “best-bandwidth” route be selected to ensure the fastest and most efficient available network connection is used.
Packet-loss recovery (PLR): Dropped packets are a fact of life in every network, especially wireless networks. With web, email, and most other internet apps, the TCP/IP protocol automatically corrects for dropped packets by requesting the sender retransmit them. But for real-time audio and video apps, the time required to request and retransmit packets may create a "correction" that's worse than the original problem. For this reason, real-time streams use the UDP protocol which simply ignores lost packets. PLR automatically replaces dropped packets to improve real-time streaming on networks with high latency or jitter. This makes it possible to maintain acceptable quality on networks with packet loss as high as 70 percent.
Real-time audio/video streaming apps have become vital tools for today’s road warriors. Enterprises need to be aware of common issues and how to ensure quality of experience so that sessions perform reliably whether in the office, on the road, or moving between the two. By taking a more proactive approach to mobile worker connectivity, enterprises can not only significantly improve productivity but also decrease company support costs.