Webex Becoming More Intelligent and Adaptive
As a daily user of video conferencing both at work and at home, I know the frustrations people have when video and/or audio quality suffer—because I experience them myself. Over the past few months, I know I have not been alone. With the rise of work from home, we’ve been stepping up efforts to improve video conferencing quality, especially over lossy networks, as most of our users are now coming across over last-mile networks.
I often think improving media quality is something I do for my own benefit. This is reminiscent of the Verizon “Can you hear me now?” commercials of early 2009. Today, cell coverage is pervasive and stable, generally speaking, and that’s where we want to get with videoconferencing – but in an even smarter way.
The more we move toward a pervasive video culture, the higher the bar becomes for what’s considered acceptable quality – even when you’re calling in from spotty coffee shop Wi-Fi. And this demand will only continue to grow as our global workforce becomes even more mobile. So, as we evolve our technology, it’s not enough to just have video technology that can perform in low or high–speed networks. It also has to be intelligent and adaptive to remain stable throughout a call against constant network fluctuations.
Great Meetings Even in Bad Networks
Over the past few months, we’ve made significant improvements in Webex Meetings that have enhanced the meeting experiences by dramatically improving audio and video quality. As part of this sweeping effort, we have focused on improving the way our application, in concert with our cloud media nodes, adapts to changing user network conditions and how it applies significantly improved intelligence to deliver the best quality possible.
We have analyzed billions of minutes of meeting quality metrics which have provided valuable insights into key quality degradation factors and how these could be addressed. Specific tuning across our applications, cloud media nodes, and networking equipment between them have resulted in higher video resolution, less freezing, and higher frame rates in environments with low-to-moderate packet loss – in other words, better looking and stable video.
Media Improvements for Enhanced Experiences
In addition, the Webex Meetings experience is now significantly better in the following areas:
- Improved audio quality with fewer popping and crackling sounds
- Better active speaker audio volume management – (a) when the active speaker’s volume is REALLY HIGH; (b) when there are users in very noisy environments. We’ve adjusted audio algorithms to handle these two scenarios so that active speaker volume is kept at a normal level instead of being lowered in response.
- Dynamic video layout adaptation when there is insufficient bandwidth – Webex Meetings can receive 25 video streams in a grid layout, but when there is insufficient bandwidth, some of these video streams would be switched off, sometimes in seemingly random order that may be distracting to users. Webex is now able to dynamically change the video layout to display as many video streams as possible in a stable way, prioritizing the most recent active speakers. If network conditions further degrade, Webex will switch to a layout with fewer people.
- Video quality improvements for 360p and 720p resolutions – we’ve increased the overall video quality by incorporating a more advanced down–sampling algorithm (how we take a 720p webcam video and generate a 360p version for slower connections) and an improved de-noising algorithm (how we remove grainy image artifacts generated by webcams).
- Smarter video algorithm that allows Webex to customize the video frame we send based on the need of the requester’s present network; in work from home scenarios, this could vary wildly based on who is streaming video or playing Fortnite.
With these smart enhancements, we’ve been able to improve performance for more than 98% of all Webex meeting minutes that have low-quality video or audio resolution. This means your Webex Meetings experience has seen a significant upgrade over the past several months. We’re continuing to advance media quality so that it gets smarter and more adaptive. Stay tuned to my next blog to see how we’ve applied artificial intelligence to focus on the most important parts of the videoconference – you!