We are often asked if MPLS circuits are required for video conferencing systems. My answer is a resounding “It depends”. What does it depend on? A few things. The level of quality you expect with your video conferences, what you and your peers’ time is worth if your video conference has problems and third is your budget. Finally, perhaps the benefits of implementing an MPLS network are more far reaching than just video, in which case the financial decision is much easier to justify.
Regarding distance: the greater the distance between two video conferencing systems, the greater the latency and potential packet loss. Short distance video usually works fine via the internet and honestly, for short hops, I would be hard pressed to recommend the investment in MPLS circuits versus internet connectivity….as long as you recognize that the internet does not provide QoS, so you WILL have occasional freeze frames and disconnected calls. If you can’t live with this, by all means, install an MPLS circuit for 100% QoS. But also realize that inexpensive FIOS or cable modem internet access rarely performs as well as the more expensive T1 circuit when it comes to video.
If you are video conferencing across the country or the globe, then the case for MPLS becomes dramatically stronger. This is because packet loss increases and network quality decreases with distance.
What are your expectations for video quality? If your internet circuits can handle 620K of video (512K plus overhead), then you can probably use your internet connection for video. But you need to really understand your bandwidth usage. Unless you have traffic shaping in place, a big download from a desktop during an important video call could cause problems; perhaps even a disconnection of your call.
So why do video conference system VARS always pitch MPLS circuits to their customers? The answer is simple:
1. For new systems, firewall configuration for video is a real pain in the neck.
2. A new customer will never have a complaint if they are using MPLS because it provides true QoS.
3. There will always be complaints when the video goes over the internet, but the problem is not the video equipment, but the internet.
What is your budget? Unless you can afford $600 to $2000 (outside USA) per location for an MPLS circuit to support video, then the answer is easy: use the internet.
What is the time of the participants worth? If a call with ten people earning a fair wage have their call disrupted, what does that cost? If want perfect quality every time and want to experience no disconnected video calls, then you MUST use MPLS circuits for your video conferencing.