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How to calculate video conferencing bandwidth requirements

Image motion, frame rates and screen resolution often dictate video conferencing bandwidth requirements. Learn four steps to address remote and office video call bandwidth needs.

Video conferencing is now a mainstay of enterprise collaboration. And, in many cases, it is the primary means of employee, partner and customer engagement.

Metrigy's "Workplace Collaboration MetriCast: 2023" global study of more than 1,400 companies showed that 88.6% currently use video conferencing or will do so by the end of the year. More than 82% are using room-based video conferencing systems with 29% increasing spending on such systems in 2024.

Of 440 companies participating in another Metrigy global study, nearly 64% were increasing room system deployments with deployments growing from 48.2% of meeting rooms to 67.8% by the end of 2023.

The video landscape has changed in recent years as cloud-based services have largely replaced on-premises platforms. But the shift to cloud doesn't absolve IT leaders of responsibility for ensuring high-quality end-user experiences.

Rather, the increased usage of video for both in-office and remote workers dramatically increases the need to ensure a high level of video performance. And rapidly emerging technologies to provide equitable meetings for both in-office and remote attendees create new demand for proactive strategies to ensure quality of experience.

What are the minimum video conferencing bandwidth requirements for remote work?

Thanks to adaptive codecs and AI capabilities increasingly available in video conferencing services, remote workers can achieve a respectable video experience almost regardless of available bandwidth. However, high-quality performance requires minimum available bandwidth. For example, Zoom noted the following maximum bandwidth requirements for each resolution level for one-to-one video calling:

  • High-quality video: 600 Kbps (up/down).
  • 720p HD video: 1.2 Mbps (up/down).
  • 1080p HD video: 3.8 Mbps/3.0 Mbps (up/down).

For group video calling, requirements increase to the following:

  • High-quality video: 1.0 Mbps/600 Kbps (up/down).
  • 720p HD video: 2.6 Mbps/1.8 Mbps (up/down).
  • 1080p HD video: 3.8 Mbps/3.0 Mbps (up/down).

Competing platforms such as Cisco Webex and Microsoft Teams require similar bandwidth for their own video conferencing services. Actual bandwidth required for a given session varies based on motion and image type.

For those with high-speed cable or fiber home services, these requirements should be easy to meet. But IT leaders should evaluate specific remote worker network performance to include not only available bandwidth, but also latency and jitter that can adversely affect voice and video performance.

They should also evaluate the potential of other services, such as video streaming and gaming, to compete for and interfere with available bandwidth for video conferencing. The use of VPNs for remote employees to access company networks may add additional latency to video sessions.

How to calculate video conferencing bandwidth requirements in the office

A key requirement for a successful video conferencing deployment is ensuring sufficient bandwidth between endpoints to support HD video applications and room systems. Two parameters drive video conferencing bandwidth requirements:

1. Bandwidth per video conference.

2. Number of concurrent video conferences on each network link.

These two parameters serve as the basis for the four steps organizations must take to ensure sufficient bandwidth for video conference calls across the company.

1. Determine video conferencing bandwidth requirements

Video conferences can require anywhere from 128 Kbps for a low-quality desktop endpoint to upward of 20 Mbps for an immersive, multiscreen HD system. Video conferencing bandwidth requirements are driven by the resolution and the ability of the session to handle image motion.

New multicamera approaches to enable capture and framing of in-room participants and whiteboards drive additional bandwidth demands, depending on whether multicamera feeds are processed in the room or sent individually as multistreams to the meeting app provider.

The table below provides typical examples of video conferencing bandwidth requirements, considering the specified resolution and frames per second (fps). Frame rate determines the ability of the video call to handle motion, while resolution determines how many pixels are on the screen image -- and, thus, how much detail users see in that image.

These bandwidth requirements are per screen, so multiscreen and multicamera systems require additional bandwidth.

Video conferencing bandwidth requirements

Bandwidth Resolution Frame rate
384 Kbps Common Intermediate Format (CIF) 30 fps
512 Kbps 4CIF 15 fps+
768 Kbps 4CIF 30 fps
1 Mbps HD720 15 fps+
2 Mbps HD720 30 fps
4 Mbps HD720 60 fps
6 Mbps HD1080 30 fps
~7 Mbps HD1080 60 fps

Use these values as guidelines to assess network bandwidth. But remember to obtain specific requirements from your vendor because bandwidth needs are typically affected by the choice of codec, compression -- where multicamera streams are processed -- and proprietary system capabilities.

Also, the video conferencing bandwidth requirements in this table are for the amount of traffic supported inside the Real-time Transport Protocol (RTP) packet payload. The actual bandwidth on the IP network -- after adding RTP, User Datagram Protocol, IP and Ethernet headers -- is about 20% higher. So, 1 Mbps video conference calls use about 1.2 Mbps of network bandwidth. These values are referred to as transport bandwidth (1 Mbps) and network bandwidth (1.2 Mbps) to avoid confusion.

To determine the right resolution and frame rate for your company, make sure users experience the video conference calls in the context where they will be used, such as the desktop, mobile device or conference room. Additionally, users should experience the video calls with the screens or projectors you plan to use so you can determine if the quality is sufficient.

Scenarios such as sharing of detailed engineering designs or product demos may require additional bandwidth. The introduction of augmented or virtual reality capabilities also require additional bandwidth.

Between quality and cost, there's a tradeoff. So, while users may prefer HD 1080p 60 fps, the cost of provisioning sufficient bandwidth to support conferences at that resolution and frame rate may be cost-prohibitive, especially in underserved parts of the world.

2. Estimate concurrent video conference calls

The next step is to determine how many concurrent calls each LAN and WAN link must support.

For small offices with only one or two video conferencing systems, assume the two systems are running concurrently. For larger offices, estimate how many video conference calls occur concurrently based on your busiest meeting times. A helpful guide is to assume half of your video conferencing room systems are being used and then adjust bandwidth needs based on usage.

Once you have estimated your room system video conferencing bandwidth requirements, add in expected desktop video use by calculating the number of meetings that use video and the percentage of participants who typically have their cameras turned on. Supporting data for these estimates is often available from your video conferencing vendor's management application.

If your organization has offices across multiple time zones, factor in time shifts. Map the call patterns onto the network topology, and create a spreadsheet to track concurrent call assumptions and the bandwidth per call. A spreadsheet enables you to modify parameters to create what-if scenarios.

3. Beware of the video conferencing bridge for on-premises systems

If you are still using on-premises servers to support your video conferencing needs, the video conferencing bridge, or multipoint control unit, is a bandwidth hotspot. All video conferencing endpoints in concurrent multipoint video calls connect directly to the bridge. Thus, the bridge needs to be in a location that supports a high-bandwidth connection. Consider enabling call admission control, if available, to ensure the number of concurrent video calls does not exceed available bandwidth.

4. Ensure sufficient internet bandwidth for cloud apps

Most companies have now adopted cloud-based video conferencing services, either as standalone applications or as part of a unified communications suite. Supporting the bandwidth needs of cloud video adds another wrinkle to the equation as each endpoint, whether room or desktop, needs to connect to the cloud provider.

Ensure you have enough bandwidth between locations to meet video conferencing needs and between the WAN and video conferencing provider. If the internet connection is through a limited number of access points, you need to ensure they have sufficient available bandwidth to support the quality and number of concurrent sessions you have previously estimated.

Alternative means of ensuring sufficient bandwidth are to enable remote sites to connect directly to the internet or to use cloud federation services that enable you to directly connect your WAN to your cloud video conferencing provider.

Editor's note: This article was updated to include newer research data, video conferencing applications and room-based hardware capabilities.

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