- There has been a global surge in the use of video conferencing during lockdowns across the world.
- In South Africa, data and fibre are expensive, and internet speeds are slower than in other countries.
- We compared the bandwidth requirements of Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts and WhatsApp to see which offer the best user experience.
- We found that Microsoft Teams or Zoom came out top. But if you need to save on data, use WhatsApp.
- For more stories go to the Business Insider South Africa homepage.
Stuck in lockdown, South Africans are now conducting meetings online, and there has been a massive surge in the downloads of video conferencing apps.
Other conference call apps like Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams,and Skype are also making their way up the rankings, while WhatsApp, which can be used as a low-data alternative, has been consistently downloaded in SA for years.
TechCrunch reported there was a record breaking 62 million downloads of video conferencing apps in just one week in March as many countries went into lockdown, up 90% from the weekly average of business app downloads in 2019.
But while Europe, Asia and America can easily stream conference calls, South Africa has a very different environment. For one, South Africa has very expensive home fibre and mobile data is also extremely pricey.
On top of that, the surge in internet traffic has resulted in a degradation in speeds for fixed and mobile broadband since March 2020, as more people stream from their homes rather than work as they go into lockdowns, according to data compiled by Ookla’s Speedtest.net, which allows users across the world to test their internet download, upload and latency speeds.
Speedtest.net data for March shows a sharp decline in mobile download speed in South Africa.
Bandwidth plays a huge role in video conferencing.
Video conferencing platforms like Skype, Zoom and Microsoft Teams require constant packets of data being sent and downloaded in real time, unlike YouTube or Netflix where videos can buffer.
Simply put, bandwidth refers to how much data, in megabytes (Mb), can be transmitted per second from the internet to your device (Mbps). It’s defined by ISPs as download and upload speeds, with 'up' referring to speed sending data from your modem to the internet, and 'down' to the speed at which your modem can download data from the internet.
The higher the bandwidth the higher the speeds you can download and upload files, and thus the higher the video quality you can stream a conference call at. Business Insider South Africa previously reported that an average internet user requires about a 4Mbps line for watching YouTube videos, and using services like Facebook and Instagram. For online gaming and watching HD videos an 8Mbps line is required.
If you have a 10mb up and 10mb down uncapped ADSL line, this will be the maximum speed you will be able to stream at. The actual average speeds will be slower, depending on the time of day and how many people are on the internet.
Different platforms have different bandwidth requirements, which means matching their requirements to your internet speed will give you a decent idea if it’s going to work or not. The more people who are on the call, the higher that bandwidth requirement gets. The same goes for the amount of devices you have on your WiFi at the same time.
Businesses Insider South Africa compared the bandwidth requirements of Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Skype, Google Hangouts Meet and WhatsApp.
We tested the apps within the same period of an hour, ourselves, on the same bandwidth, to see if there was a definitive difference in audio, image and streaming quality and our results were pretty much on par.
With each product, we also took a screen grab of our colleague Bombi Mavundza on a call, to show you the video quality.
Zoom has been used by governments, private workers and many families to stay connected during lockdown. It’s easy to use and automatically optimises its video settings based on the participants’ network, whether it is 3G, WiFi or a fixed line.
However, it has not been without controversy, and is under scrutiny for its privacy and security policies. It’s important to set up a private meeting in order to avoid ‘Zoom Bombing’ where trolls are accessing the stream and bombing it with pornography.
According to Zoom’s website, at its minimum, the app should function with a person-to-person video stream at 0.6Mbps both up and down. It’s recommended speed for a low-quality HD video at a screen size of 720 pixels (p) is twice that 1.2Mbps up/ 1.2Mbps down.
A group chat goes up to a minimum of 0.8Mbps up/ 1Mbps down with a recommended stream of 1.5Mbps up/1.5Mbps down. Larger groups and you hit 2.5Mbps up/3Mbs down for a high-quality HD stream at 1080p.
Zoom has slightly lower bandwidth requirements when plugging in from your phone, so if in doubt and you are hitting poor quality connection, move the meeting over to your phone and stream from WiFi.
Another alternative, if your business is subscribed to Office 365, is Microsoft Teams. Where bandwidth is insufficient, Teams prioritises audio quality over video quality.
Where bandwidth isn't limited, Teams optimises media quality, including up to 1080p video resolution, up to 30 frames per second for video.
According to its bandwidth recommendations, Teams should be able to deliver HD video quality in under 1.2Mbps. The actual bandwidth consumption in each audio/video call or meeting will vary based on several factors, such as video layout, video resolution, and video frames per second.
At a minimum, Teams say you should be able to stream a person to person call at 0.5Mbps (up and down). Like Zoom, it recommends 1.2Mbps/1.2Mbps for a low-resolution call of HD 720p.
For group calling the minimum recommendation is lower than Zoom’s at 0.5Mbps/1Mbps, but not by much.
Google Hangouts Meet
Google has its own version of video calling called Google Hangouts Meet. It says you can talk to up to 100 people on a call. Meet lowers the video definition to fit the network constraints. If the bandwidth is insufficient to transfer video, an audio-only mode is used.
Their minimum bandwidth requirement is 0.3Mbps (up and down) but ideally you want to have 3.2Mbps/2.6Mbps, almost three times more bandwidth recommended than Zoom and Microsoft Teams.
If your organisation live streams video meetings, Google says the ideal bandwidth for each person on a group chat is 3.2Mbps (up and down). If your bandwidth is struggling Google allows you to manually change the screen resolution to 720p which will stream at 2.6Mbps (down) and even lower at 360p at 1Mbps.
For larger groups this goes up to 3.2Mbps/4Mbps for 10 or more.
According to Skype's support pages these are the minimum download and upload speeds required, as well as the recommended speeds for best performance:
A video call requires a minimum of 0.4Mbps/0.4Mbps. A person to person call in HD is recommended to stream at 1.5Mbps (up and down).
Group videos get more data intensive with more people on the line with teams of five or more recommended to stream at 4Mbps / 0.5Mbps, and with more than ten it's a whopping 8Mbps / 0.5 Mbps.
WhatsApp, unlike the other video conferencing platforms on our list, is designed for low-quality calling.
If you are struggling with very low bandwidth, and have little data, then this would be your best option. The minimum requirement for a WhatsApp call is 0.064 Mbps.
Based on recommended streaming requirements Microsoft Teams or Zoom offer the best user experience for groups and person-to-person video calls. If you are in a pinch and need to save on data, use WhatsApp.
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Also from Business Insider South Africa:
- South Africa is getting a special three-digit phone number for Covid-19 emergencies
- Celeb chef loses her essential services permit after dinner delivery
- Petrol stations ask South Africans to wear masks in stores
- Almost 30% of SA's super rich studied law
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