An influx of video streaming and augmented reality/VR services will place incredible strain on networks within the coming years

An influx of video streaming and augmented reality/VR services will place incredible strain on networks within the coming years

It’s no secret that video is well-loved by businesses and organizations worldwide. Whether it’s used for delivering training programs, conference calls, or company-wide town halls, video is increasingly the medium of choice.

And the data backs it up. According to Forrester Research, people are 75% more likely to watch a video than read print. And according to a study from SAVO Group, the average employee retains only 35% of training material after a week, but when paired with visual information delivered via video, that number rises to 65%. Video is simply more desirable and more effective.

Virtual reality and augmented reality compound those effects – instead of consuming a video playing in front of you, these technologies allow you to enter a digital world and engage with the content physically. Virtual reality (VR) technologies allow you to immerse yourself in an entirely virtual world, whereas augmented reality technologies (AR) put a digital layer on top of the world you are physically in.

Osso VR offers an example of how VR can be used. It immerses surgical students in a virtual operating theatre so they can practice their skills without the risk of harming a real-life patient. For AR, a mechanic on a factory floor can fix a problematic machine with the real-time help of a third party expert offsite by having helpful information digitally overlay the hardware via AR glasses, such as an animated arrow pointing to the switch they need to press. Microsoft deployed their HoloLens technology to the Toyota factory floor in Japan, transforming many of their work processes. Project manager Koichi Kayano said, “I was astounded because it lets us do the things we had never done before.”

The applications for video streaming, VR, and AR in the business and education worlds is exponential, but the strain these data- and bandwidth-hungry activities will put on organizational networks is understandably concerning network and system administrators.

Matt Vaillancourt, Senior Director of Business Sales at D-Link Systems, spoke about the shifting nature of the so-called ProAV (Professional Audio Video) world. “Key markets impacted right now are K-12 and higher education as they are becoming increasingly dependent on streaming content and live demonstrations across campus and in multiple rooms,” he explains. “At the core of ProAV ‘issues’ is latency and syncing voice and audio. When you compress video/audio, the process of decompressing causes a delay in video-audio sync; this is especially problematic in live broadcasts and presentations.”

And it’s not just schools and educational organizations that are feeling the impact. Matt continues: “Similarly, as more offices turn to a remote workforce and are leveraging video, VR, and AR services, the increased traffic on the network will need to be accounted for as more people will be ‘coming into’ the office virtually.”

Adding to these new opportunities is the increase in existing bandwidth-heavy activities such as security surveillance systems and BYOD programs that dramatically increase the number of devices connected to the network. There’s the amazing ability of businesses to do product reviews, setups, and training via video for customers, or live-stream events, which add to customer engagement and satisfaction as well as to network strain.

Preparing for the influx of traffic from both within and outside the secure intranet is going to be critical for admins to ensure their organizations can support this accelerating form of engagement, especially for the increasingly digital-savvy workforce and customer base.

Paul Curry is a Staff Infrastructure Engineer at a global media company, and he sees this shift as something companies should be expecting, if not already accounting for. “Demand is already pretty high. Bandwidth is going up for most connected businesses anyway; it’s an expected expense to overhaul internal networks from time to time to modern standards,” Curry says. “Look at it this way, the modern office worker isn’t going to use much more bandwidth than they would at home.”

Getting residential-levels of bandwidth to every employee and for every task isn’t quite so simple, though it may mean upgrading system bandwidth to fit in with what’s coming next. Matt Vaillancourt sees a few options for administrators. “Consider upgrading to 10G or higher at the core and 2.5 or 5G at the edge for network refreshes. VR and AR equipment are advancing to wireless, so they will be leveraging WiFi for their connectivity, and wireless APs are rapidly advancing to 2.5G and 5G versions. Your signal-throughput can only be as good as the slowest part of your network,” he says.

For businesses running on legacy infrastructure, though, meeting this new demand may mean rethinking older network systems entirely if ‘adding on’ isn’t possible. Restructuring networks for these future strains incoming from video, VR, and AR technologies could mean taking a long-term approach to network planning.

“Start deploying ‘fatter pipes’ now to prepare networks for the strain of future needs,” Matt suggests. “The desire to run uncompressed 4K and even 8K video services is only going to grow over the next five years.”

Networks must be agile to adapt to rapid changes to a company’s network. It’s here that cloud-managed networks with remote management come into their own. With their rapid, zero-touch deployment, they provide flexibility to quickly and easily add or reconfigure bandwidth to meet changing needs.

In their ‘Future Networks‘ research, GSMA makes a case for cloud systems being the way to access these new immersive technologies of VR and AR affordably. Without them, the technologies can price out smaller organizations without networks able to withstand the data demand, which could prevent schools, hospitals, small businesses, and those with slimmer IT functionality from accessing the potential that these new technologies can bring.

Technology will continue advancing at pace, and human abilities and potential will grow alongside as we utilize these tools for learning, connectivity, and entertainment. Network and system administrators must act now, however, if these technologies are to supercharge businesses as opposed to stopping them in their tracks.