Hello? You Still There?
As demand for real-time communications grows, we are starting to see renewed focus on quality experiences.
As No Jitter editor, I spend a lot of time on the phone and, increasingly, in video calls interviewing folks about the latest and greatest developments coming out of their companies. During those meetings, nothing is more dreadful then a flakey connection that causes a disruption in the natural flow of the conversation.
You know what I mean -- a constant stopping and starting as call quality degrades and participants are forced into an awkward back and forth: "Hello? You still there?" and "You dropped out again -- what was that you just said?" Needing to disconnect and re-establish the call seems, to me, a failure of sorts. Shouldn't this communications thing be so much easier?
And in one sense, it is getting easier. We can be using our UC clients to instant message one another at one moment, then in the next moment, launch a voice or video call from the same interface. Cloud communications gives us agility and flexibility to scale calling as needed. Mobile apps let us participate in meetings as if we were sitting in a corporate conference room rather than stuck in the carpool lane at school. With a click on a link in a browser, we can immediately connect with a customer service agent via a WebRTC session.
Establishing the connection is one thing. Keeping it stable is another -- a growing challenge as enterprises adopt more of the above technologies. UC vendors are obviously trying to address performance issues -- no matter the source of the problem, the app in use is an easy scapegoat.
As UC vendors look to make something measurable out of something that's historically been unmeasurable, for example, they'll be beefing up their portfolios with tools aimed at helping enterprise IT managers analyze utilization and consumption data they've captured from their products. This is one of the six UC predictions Zeus Kerravala, founder and principal analyst with ZK Research, shared today in a No Jitter post. While Zeus spoke to the value of analytics for helping enterprise IT managers understand return on investment, there's also value in using analytics to help in the fine-tuning needed to improve performance and boost quality.
Just last week Microsoft took a step toward doing just that for Skype for Business. As covered on No Jitter, it acquired the core technology platform underlying Event Zero's Skype for Business management and analytics reporting suite. Event Zero had been one of three inaugural IT Pro Tools partners Microsoft announced in March 2015.
Microsoft has said the Event Zero technology will complement the diagnostic capabilities it already offers users in the Skype for Business Server 2015 Call Quality Dashboard. The dashboard's purpose is to help UC administrators diagnose network infrastructure issues affecting call quality.
Another interesting approach for addressing the challenges of real-time communications performance comes from within the network infrastructure itself. Dialogic last week announced availability of a software-based load balancer, the Dialogic PowerApp LB, designed with SIP in mind. As Jim Machi, SVP of product management and marketing, told me, "We still do the data, and HTTP and Web-based load balancing, but we wanted to be really, really good at SIP voice load balancing."
Because traditional load balancers don't necessarily understand the underlying SIP loads and messaging flows in general, calls sometimes don't complete properly and users may experience long latencies when establishing and during sessions, added Rakendu Devdhar, product line manager, rich media content communications products, at Dialogic.
"It all comes down to the user experience, so the angle for us is tuning the load balancer specifically for communications -- whether that's SIP communications or WebRTC or something else," he said. "We're trying to optimize the way users communicate in today's networks with load balancers along with the media processing, call processing, and other communications assets."
In the grand scheme of things, my call quality issues are relatively unimportant. For the most part, poor line quality is an annoyance for me. I can reschedule a briefing, or shoot off a follow-up email. But what if I were on a call with millions of dollars in the balance? I sure as heck would want to make sure latency didn't mess me up.
That's a real concern of one of the early enterprise users of the PowerApp LB, Rakendu said. Although he couldn't disclose the company name, he said a well-known "big bank" is using the load balancer today to boost collaborative sessions between traders in New York and London. "These are massively latency-sensitive calls. When a trader picks up the phone and gets on a conference call with a partner across the Atlantic, that connection needs to occur instantaneously, and it can't go down -- you can imagine where an outage of one or two seconds could mean millions of dollars in losses."
Yes, I can imagine... and glad of only having to imagine rather than having responsibility for it! But comparatively mundane as my real-time communications needs may be, I'm heartened by the varied attempts at improving my call experiences.
If real-time communications, SIP trunking, or UC management are on your mind, be sure to attend Enterprise Connect 2016, coming March 7 to 10 in Orlando, Fla. Register here by Friday, Feb. 12, to save an additional $200 off the early bird rate. This discount, available using the code NJPOST for those signing up for an entire event pass or Tuesday through Thursday conference pass, represents a total savings of $700 off the onsite price! As an added bonus, register three or more attendees from your company for even bigger savings.