Latency in data transfer is a huge issue in online meetings

A week ago we became a registered Cisco partner – after unsuccessfully trying back in 2009 – and were quite happy about this. We needed some help for details regarding the creation of WebEx trial account links and were invited to a web conference with Cisco partner support – naturally via WebEx Meeting Center. We had an online meeting from our office in Frankfurt, Germany with a US-based representative and after further evaluation with a Cisco European Partner Advisor professional based in Portugal.

In both cases we were amazed to see that during screen sharing there was a latency of up to 5 seconds at some points! This naturally made communication a bit complicated since we needed to jump between lots of web pages on Cisco's Partner Central extranet and never knew what the Cisco service desk was currently seeing.

As we have said before such latency can have various causes (and often it will be a combination of factors, e.g. slow local internet connection, insufficient compression of screen content by the software, limited backbone connectivity or server capacity on the part of the web conference provider, or the physical latency caused simply by large geographical distances). Since there are so many variables in this scenario, part of them not controllable by the web conference service provider, we have so far not included this as a criterion in our tests.

We feel that this needs to change: Considering that latencies of more than 1 second can impact an online meeting much more than ‘soft’ interface usability criteria or the ‘completeness’ of features and functions, we will develop a testing infrastructure that allows us to collect comparative data to make reliable statements about whether an online collaboration tool is comparatively slow or not.

After our meeting experience with Cisco we cannot help but be amazed: Of all vendors Cisco – as world leader in ‘all things connectivity’ – should have a powerful backbone connectivity that enables a seamless meeting experience. Since our internet connection was at full speed the day we had the two online meetings the question remains how well Cisco WebEx is suited for our usage scenario, which is using the Mac-client and sharing a screen with 1920x1200px. The new version of WebEx Meeting Center is about to be released – including HD video conferencing – and we will see if latency remains an issue.

2 comments

  1. Would be interested to know if you ever came up with the testing infrastructure you mentioned.

  2. Lee, we thought about it but it is pretty hard to set up because it would require significant technical infrastructure investments and it is not easy to measure latency under certain conditions.

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