The project is based on the fact that most internet video conferencing solutions do not work well with low bandwidth and unstable internet connections as they were designed with the assumption of stable Internet connections with large amounts of bandwidth. Therefore countries like South Africa and other developing countries that experience connectivity problems are unable to use these solutions.

Internet conferencing solutions provide a virtual environment with tools and features for remote meetings among geographically dispersed participants. These features may include audio-video communication, slide presentations, text chat, agenda and whiteboard sharing. When the Internet connection quality declines, those features are directly impacted. Problems such as indeterminate audio, frozen presentation slides and very poor video quality may arise, resulting in an unpleasant user experience (Claypool & Tanner, 1999). These problems can impact the communication to a point where the Internet conferencing solution is almost useless (Egido, 1998).

Not all the features of Internet conferencing tools are impacted the same way by Internet connection problems. In addition, they do not have the same effect on usability and user experience. Therefore an internal architectural restructuring can positively enhance the usability and user experience. The focus is on how to reprioritize features in order to get the best tradeoff between quality and usability with constrained Internet connections.

The main research questions addressed by the project are:

  • Is it possible to build an effective audio-conferencing tool that works with low bandwidth conditions?

  • Is it possible to build an effective video-conferencing tool that works with low bandwidth conditions?

  • Is it possible to build an effective text chat tool that can work with minimal bandwidth?

  • Is the pre-loading of static data feasible with low bandwidth?

  • Is it possible to construct a system that manages meeting procedures (presence, hand-raising, etc.) efficiently despite varying Internet conditions?

  • Contrary to previous design approaches, this project will assume a very poor Internet connection. Further investigations on how to deliver an acceptable user experience with this constraint will be conducted. The resulting product should function reliably with both limited and high speed Internet service.

    In order to respond to the research questions, an experimental prototype was developed. It was first assumed that the underlying Internet connection is low bandwidth and unstable. This assumption motivated core system design choices, which focused on delivering an acceptable and satisfactory user experience. The resulting system has 3 modules, developed by 3 group members. The figure illustrates the global system overview.

    Audio and Video

    The audio module aims to provide a clear sound stream conveying an intelligible speech when using the smallest bandwidth possible. The video module complements audio and enhances the sense of presence by allowing participants to see each others during the meeting. When the bandwidth becomes insufficient, the audio stream is prioritized.

    Chat and presentation

    The chat module has the highest priority; to allow participant to exchange text messages when all the multimedia streams cannot work due to insufficient bandwidth. The presentation module provides slide sharing between participants. The presentations are pre-loaded unto participants’ PCs, only the ID of the current page is exchanged during the meeting. Slides are compressed before being sent across the network.

    Participant list and desktop sharing

    The system will track the list of participants in the meeting and manage floor control. The desktop sharing allows clients to remotely share their computer’s desktops.

    Hussein Suleman
    Antoine Bagula