Why Lync voice and video on mobile is such a challenge today

Today, the sensationally awesome tech news site The Verge published a piece titled “Is video the future of voice?” that discusses HD voice on mobile and Voice over LTE (VoLTE). It touches on how voice quality is not improving on the mobile today because customers aren’t prepared to pay for it when the current standard is perfectly fine.

However with the arrival of LTE and better bandwidth, it highlights that consumers might be prepared to pay for real, good quality (not circa 2000 5×5 pixels wide “3G” quality) video calls on their phone. The challenge being in the consistent, reliable delivery over the network.

One of the key takeaway quotes by Terry McCabe (CTO of LTE services specialist Mavenir Systems) in this article is:

(Skype) lacks quality of service — it can’t guarantee that packets of data will reach their intended destination the way a carrier can when it prioritizes its own video calling service on the network

So basically what he’s saying here is that the carrier is essentially the only entity that can provide QoS (Quality of Service) of the audio/video packets over the mobile network. This gives them a tremendous advantage as the demand for video increases.

How does this impact Lync?

The quote above is basically your number one reason why you can’t get Lync voice and video on your mobile today. Skype can do it, we all know this. But Skype is free, and Lync is an enterprise grade product. It has to work well every time. Your company paid good money in licensing, hardware and implementation costs for Lync, so there should be no compromise.

It’s all about perception

Let’s imagine that the CEO attempts a Lync video call from his iPhone to the VP of Sales. It might start out fine and look fantastic. But if either person moves around a bit, or bandwidth contention hits that particular mobile tower, the video quality could suffer greatly. The blame isn’t put on O2, T-Mobile, Telstra, Telefonica or whatever other carrier, the blame is on Lync because that’s what they’re looking at at that second. Bad news for the latest flagship productivity solution you’ve deployed to the entire company.

As Randy Wintle highlighted in his post on why it makes sense, Call-via-Work is the best reliable voice solution for Lync on the mobile today. It ensures the call is initiated from your device regardless of what kind of mobile data connection you have, all the while providing Single Number Reach (presenting your work number to the person you called rather than your mobile number).

It’s not using VoIP, but users aren’t fussed about this. They were able to call who they needed to call on their Lync contact list, the call connected (reliably) and their presence was set to “In a Call“. It satisfactorily delivers a pretty consistent user experience to the mobile that users are already familiar with when they use Lync on their desktop PC.

Anyway, I thought the piece of The Verge was significant to mobile voice/video and that I’d wax lyrical about mobility for a bit there. 🙂

8 thoughts on “Why Lync voice and video on mobile is such a challenge today

  1. Chris

    Agree with the reason for voice/video over 3G, but I keep being asked why not support it over WiFi. Which I say is similar reasons for example when you try to do voice at Starbucks wifi but in a corporate wifi it would be effective. Also users are already doing voice at public wifi hotspots so we already suffer with these wifi issues.

    1. Chris Norman

      Hi Chris, Not going to disagree with your comment but having only wifi access on a mobile device presents a number of issues of its own. Like switching between cell and wifi services and how to effectively do that. Seeing as smartphones are seen as a seamless mobile device unlike a laptop which is more tied to just wifi I can see only having a wifi option confusing to end users on a smartphone. Sometimes not allowing something is a better solution than half a solution especially when it comes to voice. Better to just allow the cellular service to capture that traffic. Can you imagine the help desk call, “well I was at Starbucks and when I walked out my call dropped”. How do you explain to an enduser the ins and outs of wifi access and application service. No thanks. There are better ways to route a call to cell/smartphone phone other than wifi.

      I think the demand for video on smartphones is much more perception than reality. Although I see cases where this is useful, desktop video has not really seen critical mass but yet here we are demanding video on smartphones as a must have. If people in general are not inclined to jump on a desktop device and do video calls frequently I am not sure what makes everyone think that putting video on a smartphone is going to change that. Yes there are cases where this is useful but in general the deployments and use of mobile video are low and I think this has much less to do with technology than people realize.

  2. Graham Walsh

    Of course for enterprise grade voice and video there is Polycom RealPresence Mobile that works over Wifi and 3G from 64k for voice and 128k for video. Compliments Lync very well.

  3. Joe

    I utilize LYNC audio/video calls daily on my laptop tethered via vz mifi (4g) without issue. 3G handles voice ok, just not video.

  4. Bogdan Pintea

    One needs to consider the entire AV stack when discussing what’s possible and what not. Bandwidth is not the issue, and RTA/V were designed to handle high packet loss (up to 20% – see tests performed in Aruba/etc labs), jitter and latency. In fact, one of the most compelling arguments for Lync vs Cisco is the fact that you dont need a private network and it just works from the airplane or wherever you might find yourself. The problem you have today on mobile devices (smartphones specifically, iPad/tablets is not an issue) is the CPU ceiling. RTA/V are very processor intensive (especially when you add AEC and the rest of the audio pipeline processing) and you run into a ceiling in conferences, when you have desktop sharing running in parallel as well. The answer (for smartphones) is to run the codec in silicon; that is why the addition of H.264 SVC in Lync 2013 is significant, as many chipsets support H.264 natively. I would suggest folks interested in trying Xavy contact me, happy to work with the community in dispelling the myth of “mobile is not good for AV”. As to the suggestion that people think of Call Via Work as good-enough? Good-enough is a lame attitude; enterprises want VoIP, primarily for cost savings (have you tried to call-via-work while traveling abroad??)

    1. Justin Morris

      Fantastic insight Bogdan, thanks. I didn’t know the challenge lay with CPU resources when it comes to mobile. Will be great to see what comes with Lync 2013 and H.264 support.

  5. Bogdan Pintea

    We’ve implemented support for RTA/V in the applications processor; by working with silicon vendors and device manufacturers (open platforms, or platforms where you have control, like Windows Phone and Android), you can optimize these codecs as well; I would not hold my breath for iOS, their H.264 implementation is only for decoding, you cannot encode using the dedicated chipset


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