Working from home became an unexpected reality during the pandemic. Like most, I upgraded our Internet connection after making the transition to ensure everyone in my household could continue to make video calls, watch Netflix and browse the web without interruption.
As the events industry moved online, more thought was given to networking technology than ever imagined as planners and producers struggled to manage Internet traffic. In an ideal world, everyone would have enough Internet at their disposal and it could be relied on every second of everyday. Unfortunately, the reality is the Internet may be hurting your virtual and hybrid events.
Here are six things to keep in mind when planning a virtual event to set you up for success.
Internet Connection Matters
In North America, there are two main types of Internet connection: copper or fibre cable. Typically, the maximum copper-based Internet speed is 250 megabytes per second (Mbps). Fibre cable can handle significantly higher amounts of data and offer Internet speeds of 1 to 2 gigabytes per second (Gbps). Remember, this is the speed at which the Internet reaches the modem in a building. A router is then needed to create a connection and communicate with your Wi-Fi network. If the Internet speed is 1 Gbps but your router can only handle 250 Mbps, then that is the throughput to your device.
There are other networks you can connect to wirelessly like 4G LTE and 5G; however, they tend to be cost-prohibitive for streaming video and audio as you are charged per megabyte and gigabyte (GB).
Say Goodbye to Wi-Fi
Tapping into Wi-Fi offers great flexibility but it is also unreliable. You can lose your Internet connection if your Wi-Fi network is overloaded, the distance between the router and your wireless device is too large or you’ve installed other wireless devices that are affecting your network.
When planning a virtual event, make sure every device that is part of your production workflow can be connected directly to your output router via an ethernet cable. Hard-wired Internet connections offer improved speed and stability.
The 50 Per Cent Rule
Whether using fibre or copper cable, your connection is not as strong as you may think. The Internet goes through a public switch, or node, via your Internet service provider (ISP). This applies even when you have ‘dedicated’ service at a venue. It may be free of additional traffic within the building; however, once it leaves, the Internet needs to route through your ISP’s switch to get to the destination. This means if there is additional traffic in the vicinity of that switch, your bandwidth will be reduced so as not to overload it.
The result is the 50 per cent rule on Internet connection. This means if you need 1 Gbps of synchronous connection (upload and download speed), you can only count on half of it (500 Mbps) within a single connection. Once you calculate how much bandwidth is needed for your virtual event, you will effectively need to double it to guarantee it works.
Know How you are Streaming
Different streaming technologies require different connection speeds. The most common, real-time messaging protocol (RTMP) needs a minimum 5 Mbps, and up to 25 to 30 Mbps for a single connection. RTMP is an old protocol that is used mainly for preloaded videos on a server, a low bandwidth and latency transmission. YouTube uses RTMP to transmit an already produced video to the viewer through its app and web-based player. For real-time video, it adds so much latency and delay in the signal that it renders it unusable.
Secure reliable transport, or SRT, is the next big standard in streaming, requiring a minimum 30 Mbps. It is used in major productions and live news streaming — the video is transported via SRT to a production truck or studio and then sent to a RTMP upload.
Network device interface (NDI) allows for the connection over the Internet in real-time between that location and production switcher. However, the bandwidth requirement for each ingest and output stream is very high, up to 120 Mbps.
Let’s go back to the 50 per cent rule. if you have an output stream on RTMP at 25 Mbsp, three input streams (remote contributors) on SRT at 90 Mbps and a NDI stream from a remote studio at 120 Mbps, you’re already at 310 Mbps. Factor in multi-view streams to each location (SRT at 120 Mbps) and communications (for example, Clear-Com over IP at 15 Mbps), and you’ve already eaten up all of the guaranteed bandwidth on a single 1 GB connection.
Check your Internet Speed
For each location that you are streaming content from, whether a home, office or studio, you need to conduct a detailed speed test. Most can be done from a browser via Google; however, the Google speed test is not testing specifics of your network.
Your ISP will have a page that you can access via a browser to test your speed. The ISP test will have virtual access to your main connection and device.
A good solution for ease of results is a program called Ookla, which tracks a direct connection to your nearest public switch.
Just remember to cut whatever number you get in half as that is the bandwidth you can count on.
Garbage In, Garbage Out
If the image you are trying to transmit is of poor quality, your Internet connection will have to work harder. Same goes for video with low light levels and bad audio; the processing on either end needs more bandwidth to ensure it can interpret what you are sending. The worse the data that is streamed, the more that’s needed to render it in real-time via the codec.
Matthew Byrne is founder and president of Byrne Production Services, which provides production services for hybrid, virtual and live events. Matthew can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.