What’s the Buzz About Video Chat?

Barely four weeks into my job at Spirent, I headed out to Europe in April 2012 to help a client evaluate the field performance of different video chat services. Until then, I had been an occasional user of Skype and Messenger on a PC, and I had no particular preference. Like me, I expect that most people just pick the one that their circle of family and friends use—Skype with Grandpa, FaceTime with Mom, and none with Dad because he can’t configure his “app” correctly.

But after nine continuous days of testing (and all through a beautiful four day weekend holiday) of mobile video chat using our Video Service Experience system—Chromatic—I was amazed to see significant differences in the performance of the popular chat services on different networks (3G, LTE, WiFi) and devices.

Welcome to the world of video chat Key Performance Indices (KPIs). Things like call set up time, frame rate, resolution, freezing, speech quality, and lip sync make a performance report as complicated, but as useful and revealing as a blood pathology report! LDL is good, but sodium is bad. Frame rate is good, but lip sync is bad. Get it?

Our European services team has done some pretty amazing things for our clients with Chromatic. Obviously, testing video chat performance in venues where their subscribers are most likely to use these services is an important requirement for wireless carriers. Because they were concerned about the public becoming alarmed or nervous when we deployed our “black box” test rigs in cafes, public squares and vans, my colleague John Hawley put together a very nifty and compact Pelican™ rig that allows us to test as many as 4 concurrent chat sessions with no disruption or undesirable attention.

We ran a project that involved simultaneously testing 4 different video chat services, setting up 4 video call pairs between our Reading UK office and different public locations. Eight devices in all, whew! My colleagues Colin and Richard were the mobile crew that went all over Reading—the railway station, the mall, and the mandatory Starbucks. I carried the credit card that paid for the coffee and eats.

Here they are with the rig and their capture laptops on the middle table in a Starbucks.

Video Chat

The inset in the picture shows how we mount 4 cameras and devices in the rig. See how the patrons are oblivious to our team’s activities? The guy on the right’s got his own video chat going.

So as video chat becomes more ubiquitous for social and business interaction, and consumer choices more confusing, wireless carriers have recognized the importance of creating unified and simplified solutions that they have more control over. Along with the VoLTE rollout, I think they are going to spend a lot of time developing and introducing their own integrated video chat solutions, which some day will go across all networks, platforms and devices.

Learn more about measuring voice, video & data—the mobile experience.

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