It’s 9:03 AM. The call should have started at least 3 minutes ago. This is what I hear on the line:
B: “Can you hear me?”
C: “What, did you say something? Is anyone there?”
B: “Sorry, I can’t hear you at all.”
A: “Hello? Can you hear me?”
C: “I think my firewall doesn’t let me call out…”
And so and so on. Shamefully, it’s 2014 and we have a plethora of free communication services available, yet this is how a normal video-conferencing call looks today. And it seems to be a trend, no matter what software you use or how fancy your new MacBook Pro Retina is. Internet calling is a mysterious thing that seems to be unable to shake its issues. I’m a “pre-sales engineer” at ZeroTurnaround who runs demos and meetings a dozen times a day, so this is not new for me. But still, there are some issues that have stood out from others and seem to be easily solvable.
1. Headset and/or mic and/or speakers and/or telephone is fracked
This is the most common problem we face today. Most of the people we have meetings with do not have a properly working headset, or it’s set up incorrectly, or several people need to listen/talk at once. This causes some to use their laptop’s mic & speakers, which of course is not a good option because all the noise and echo comes usually through, causing the listener to recoil in much pain and horror.
Obvious solution: Get a good headset, with a built-in microphone, or use a conferencing speaker/mic combo that eliminates feedback through the speaker.
2. The tertiary software is messed up
This is also very usual and a major cause of delays in getting started on time. The main problems here are too old Java or Flash versions. It is important to keep those things up to date because many internet services depend on them, such as the online conference call you’re about to have.
Obvious solution: Keep Java, Flash and your OS up to date all the time, plus sign on 5 minutes early so find out if everything will work
3. The teleconferencing drivers don’t work
This doesn’t appear to be such an issue with Mac OS, but it still seems to be a problem with some Windows installations when plugging in and out those new fancy USB headsets. If there is even a remote chance of having a separate driver that probably cannot be found but it necessary for using your hardware, then get it!
Obvious solution: Once you buy the kit, don’t forget to test it out and check if it really works or needs some special handling.
4. The Internet is too slow (basically always)
Whether you’re using GoToMeeting, Webex, Skype or Join.me, you will probably want at least 1 mbit/s up (sometimes even more when sharing the screen too) and 1 mbit/s down internet connection. But that doesn’t guarantee anything–we still suffer at times with 50 mbit/s up/down to our offices. Run speed tests periodically just to see if anything is bizarro.
Obvious solution: Make sure you have met those requirements and upgrade your internet package when needed.
5. Everyone has a brain fail
Le duh! There have been numerous cases where people just do not read and follow the instructions, which are basically designed for idiots to be able to understand. Yet this happens to all of us, myself included. Remember when you were a kid looking for your winter hat while wearing it? Same thing, ported to the IT world.
Obvious solution: read carefully, where do you need to call and THEN listen to instructions carefully when calling.
6. Corporate policy requires a paranoid sysadmin to set up an unbreachable firewall
Some meetings end up never having been started because of too restrictive firewall rules or too paranoid sysadmin. Here is the list of well-known internet calling softwares, that you should revise with your system’s administrator:
- GoToMeeting (http://www.gotomeeting.com)
- Skype (http://www.skype.com)
- Join.me (http://join.me)
- Webex (http://www.webex.com)
- LiveMeeting (http://www.livemeeting.com)
- … try searching Google for some others too!
Obvious solution: Find the highest-ranking director you can and figure out which video calling services they plan to use. Then, tell them that the company isn’t letting these calls go through ;-)
At ZeroTurnaround, we think about and work on ways to avoid wasting time every day. Delayed or cancelled meetings can sometimes be a huge waste of time. Think about this: if you have 6 people waiting for a meeting that is 10 minutes delayed, then you aren’t losing 10 minutes, you’re losing 1 hour! (6×10=60 minutes)
The only way to get around the problem is to spread the word and make sure that the generally simple requirements for video/teleconferencing can easily be met. It’s always ten times easier to keep things up to date and available rather than screwing around with unexpected issues after a meeting has already started.
Sorry for the rant, but I bet that some of you may still think that everything is OKAY and you shouldn’t have any problems. But if you haven’t actually tested anything, you can never be sure.
Test it with me soon; the easiest way to check your internet calling capabilities is to have a JRebel demo with us! ;-)