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During the ongoing Covid-19 social distancing restrictions, many of us have been using our home PCs/laptops/tablets/smart phones etc to work and communicate ‘remotely’ over the internet. Similarly many media journalists have also been conducting their business, TV interviews, Quiz Shows and the like, using the same ‘shared’ internet technology. However, it is clear that the performance of many of these connections have suffered from frequent impairments.
My question is, can we make these our attempts to create reliable duplex connections over the internet more reliable? There is clearly a significant demand for ‘mixed mode’ working in the future in the New Normal. Is it possible to improve the performance of these links using the existing network infrastructure and will it be accessible to the public at low cost?
Some of my own observations are laid out below for your consideration and comment:
1.) To those who question the need to have an Ethernet wired connection to either their mobile 4G based network hub device or fixed line router/modem/hub, I must say that in my experience Wi-Fi at 2.4GHz is inherently unreliable and ‘drops out’ from time to time, especially for users in densely populated neighbourhoods or those living in tower blocks or flats. This happens frequently, for a number of reasons that are generally not soluble satisfactorily, even if you use the latest allegedly 'best in class' BT HUB or similar or individual Wi-Fi signal boosters and/or range extenders. I have observed, using channel monitoring applications, that there are very few Wi-Fi channels 'within range' to cause any serious contention for bandwidth on the 5GHz bands in our neighbourhood of mostly bungalows, detached and semi-detached houses. However the 5GHz signal strength and usable ‘wireless bandwidth’ reduces rapidly as we move around the house and whilst my laptops are equipped with both 2.4GHz and 5GHz interfaces, my smart phone is only equipped with 2.4GHz.
2.) Having taken part in numerous Zoom meetings with friends and family at various times of the day and evenings since March 2020, I have concluded that many of the instances of the 'under water or dalek voice' plus video freezing occurrences that we observe coming from other participants may well be due to these Wi-Fi 'drop outs' in their individual setups where at the same time very few have complained about similar impairments form our 'home studio'. Needless to say I have been using a ‘hard wired’ Ethernet connection between my laptop and router modem which is, I believe far more reliable a 'link' than using the alternative, but very popular Wi-Fi home connection path. Undoubtedly, some of the instances of channel impairment during these typically one hour duration Zoom calls/meetings can be placed at the door of bandwidth or network availability contentions elsewhere than in the home but when all is said and done, the internet runs on what is fundamentally a packet based, best efforts, simplex communication protocol and so it is inevitable that packets will be dropped from time to time, and that multi-way or even just two-way conversations over the medium, will ‘break up’ under certain traffic flow conditions, even when using a dedicated, end-to-end High Grade channel, using business grade codecs with large buffering/latency provisions - as can be seen frequently on our TV News Channels where both video and audio quality is often severely impaired in real time.
3.) My Son lives in a flat with no landline available so he uses a small portable 4G mobile network hub device to connect to the internet and stream all those TV programmes not available ‘off air’ via the communal Satellite Feed provided in the flats, and he seems to manage his TV internet streaming adequately using the Wi-Fi interface between his TV and the network hub. Maybe it is a dual band (2.4G/5G) device but the max download it offers is only around 10Mbit/s over the 4G mobile network compared with our 36Mbit/s download and 10 Mbit/s Upload speeds on our old fashioned (costly, annual Line Rental package) landline based system.
4.) I must say that the 10 Mbit/s upload offered by our copper wired landline to the BT Fibre ‘street cabinet’ just 100 metres down the road, has proved to be very useful recently when uploading even modest video files to 'the Google cloud' when my wife and I have contributed to several virtual choir recordings made on our new smart phone, organised to keep us all amused during the various months of Covid - 19 restrictions, when amateur choirs are unable to meet to rehearse let alone give performances to live audiences.
On a more positive note, thank heavens the growth of the UK high speed optical fibre telecommunications network/infrastructure, installed by BT since its initial introduction in the early 1980s, has finally ‘come good’ to support so many large numbers of white collar office workers ‘working remotely’ often from home, during these troubled times. At least that is something we telecoms design and development engineers can be proud that we got right, in time for these unforeseen emergency conditions. It remains to be seen how many employees will be able to continue with some form of mixed mode remote/office working in future as we all adopt the ‘New Normal’ post pandemic.
I am still on ADSL (actually ADSL2+) because (a) I'm a cheapskate and don't want to pay for faster broadband, and (b) because at the moment, I'm adopting an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" approach to my broadband. The last thing I want is Openreach fiddling with my line. But I still have no problem doing videoconferencing on my rather crummy 1.1 Mbps upload speed. It even works when using a VPN to connect to the company network.