Video Conferencing Technology: The Hows and Whys | Hacker Noon

June 3rd 2020

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@samAlex Sam

Hi I’m Alex. A voracious reader and loves to chew updates on upcoming web trends and technologies.

As a global pandemic continues to affect countries all over the world, terms such as ‘work from home’ and ‘video conferencing technology’ have become buzzwords penetrating every virtual office and home. 

The lockdowns and social distancing regulations have forced businesses to close office doors and move operations online. This shift has consequently led to companies big and small either opting for pre-made web video conferencing solutions or attempting to build a video conference web app from scratch. But the latter is easier said than done. 

Challenges of Building Video Conferencing Web Applications from Scratch 

Real-time communication is a must-have in any work environment; however, to make a video conferencing application without guidance and experience is to set oneself up for technical failure. Here are some challenges that developers and companies might face when attempting to create a video conferencing app:

1. Long delivery times

It’s difficult to estimate just how long it takes to create, test and launch a video call solution, especially one that is tailored to your business needs. Often times, this spirals into longer delivery periods, which in turn might mean higher production costs and added expenditure on temporary apps.

2. Operational complexity

Given the multiple levels of organisation and coding that go into making an enterprise video conference solution, the ensuing operational complexity has the potential to put important projects on hold. In high-stakes conditions, companies can’t afford to re-shuffle priorities or put their services on a back-burner; building, testing and launching an app from scratch might hurt regular operations. 

3. Cross-service security

Top-notch security is critical to the success of a video calling app, especially in the context of confidential meetings and information transfer. Alongside building the app, developers will also have to ensure encryption and security at user and database levels. Lapses in security could prove to be a costly affair to clean up for companies of any size. 

Looking at these potential hiccups along the road to building a video chat app from scratch, it’s safe to say that a lot of companies swerve the other way and choose a readymade video conferencing solution for small business. However, installing a third-party app has its fair share of challenges.

Challenges of Using Third-Party Video Conferencing Apps 

Many video chat applications around the world have been hauled up for jeopardising the safety and privacy of users. Security challenges remain the top reason why businesses jettison even the best video conferencing services and attempt to build their own solutions. 

Some more recent security and performance challenges that have made waves in the media include:

1. Bombings 

This term was popularised in this context by ‘Zoombombers’, a play on ‘photobombers’, and refers to the phenomenon of unauthorised individuals joining supposedly ‘private’ video calls. The number of video call bombings have alarmingly been on an upward incline ever since COVID-19 lockdowns were put into effect earlier this year. While in some cases, users have seen strangers pop up in their video calls, other video calls were interrupted by streaming of inappropriate or offensive content. 

2. Data leakages

In a recent case of data breaches, a popular video conferencing app was questioned for apparently having leaked users’ personal information, including but not restricted to email addresses and photographs. Data theft and leaks are controversial and can sink a video call app no matter how much of a popular choice it is. 

3. Privacy shortcomings 

End-to-end encryption is one of the most popular security demands today. Yet, some popular third-party video conferencing apps hadn’t fully upped their E2E, causing a lot of pitfalls in privacy and security. A recent situation was when a third-party app pooled users with the same email host (such as Gmail and Yahoo!) under the same organisational structure, allowing them to contact each other despite being strangers. Additionally, personal information was said to have been shared with social networking platforms to sell for ad targeting and other purposes– all without user knowledge.

4. Ensuring Quality of Service

Top video conferencing software has to be accessible across all device configuration and network bandwidths. It must also be fast in transmission and easy to use. However, checking all of these boxes is tough for developers; tackling each of these issues as new updates means a long time will pass until the app is truly safe and user-friendly.

The Problems With Building Your Dream Video Conferencing Technology Stack

1. Customising features is difficult

It’s much harder than it looks to create customisable features when you build a video chat app. These features will need to take into account all teams and their requirements; it will also need to function seamlessly despite extra additions over time. 

2. Running it on on-premise servers is a challenge 

Your servers or cloud service might not be equipped to support your new video calling app. Even if you have custom-built servers, it will take a lot of tweaking to ensure that it remains stable during uploads and use. If done incorrectly, businesses might risk crashing servers and loss of data. 

3. Communicating with in-built security and privacy is tough 

As made evident by the rising cases of privacy breaches and security failures, it isn’t enough for an organisational video app to rely solely on in-built security and privacy. While this can be offset by using extra precautions on the users’ ends, it all spirals into a long-drawn procedure that can be otherwise avoided. 

4. Costs can build up

Unlike other apps, which provide SDKs and APIs through one-time costs, the cost of building and maintaining custom-built video calling apps can build up over time. The additional costs of extra features and upgrades might also tax budgets much harder than if companies were to pay a one-time cost. 

5. Maintaining iOS and Android apps are challenging 

Building a video conferencing app for Android & iOS is a completely different ball game. Right from designing and coding to hosting, it is difficult for a company to manage all levels of development by themselves. Even if they decide to take on an external party for help, the consequential costs may attest to the futility of the activity.

However, it’s not all doomsday predictions. There is a way by which companies can reap the benefits of the best video conferencing solution, that is custom-built, without actually having to develop it in-house. The secret is using an SDK or an API. 

Benefits of Video Conferencing Integration

1. Quick implementation

Using a video chat API for Android & iOS cuts down the process of setting up an app to a bare minimum. This saves time and doesn’t require putting business services and goals on the back burner to make use of developers and designers. 

2. Reduced costs

It is less expensive to integrate a video chat app than to build one from scratch. Businesses can pay a one-time cost and don’t have to worry about future costs of maintenance or customisable features. 

3. More security

Using a video chat SDK for Android or iOS ensures safety and privacy is paramount. Since development and testing is all taken care of, this plug-and-play solution ensures users can get started without having to worry about extra safety precautions. 

4. Added ML/ AI capabilities

Good video chat APIs and SDKs come with added ML or AI capabilities, which power business operations without the burden of building them from scratch. This also reduces the cost of hiring experienced ML designers and developers. 

5. Saving travel expenses

Using a video chat API or SDK allows companies to cut down on travel expenses incurred due to client or investor meetings in the same city or internationally. Video calls significantly reduce expenditure on insurance and infrastructure, too. 

6. Maintain business continuity 

Using a video chat API or SDK ensures that businesses carry on with daily operations without having to spare essential resources for building an in-house app. 

The Leading Video Conferencing Technology of Today

WebSocket refers to a protocol for computer communication which provides complete duplex communication channels over one unique TCP link. In 2011 the IETF standardized the WebSocket protocol as RFC 6455, and the W3C is standardizing the WebSocket API that is present in Web IDL. Although quite different from HTTP, WebSocket WebSocket is configured to operate across 80 and 443 HTTP ports, as well as support existing intermediaries and proxies.

WebRTC (Web Real-Time Communication) is a free and open-source program that delivers real-time communication through simple APIs to web browsers and mobile applications.

1. Signalling

2. STUN Server

WebRTC apps often use the ICE framework to make up for the practical complexity of real-world networking. The STUN server is used to receive an external network address when the ICE fails to connect using a host address from a device’s operating system. 

3. TURN Server

In essence, a TURN server is a STUn server only with added capabilities. It is worth noting that TURN servers are much more expensive to run.

Hosting and Development Possibilities for Video SDKs

There are two major hosting possibilities, not unlike other apps:

  • Cloud hosting : This allows your app to be accessed by multiple people without the need to store on in-house servers. 
  • In-house servers : This keeps the video SDKs exclusively in-house as opposed to on the cloud. 

When it comes to developing a video conferencing platform, companies may also choose: 

1. Peer-to-peer approach

In this approach, systems are interconnected through the internet and files can be shared without the need for a central server. 

2. Media server approach

In this approach, an application software keeps all digital media files while also making them available over a network on demand. 

3. CPaaS approach

Using a Communication-Platform-as-A-Service (CPaaS) provider allows for the addition of real-time features to a cloud platform without needing to build backend interfaces or infrastructure. 

Integrating Video Conferencing Technology Within Your Existing App

1. Video SDK account credentials

Here, each client or user is registered through the SDK authentication page. It also allows the admin to assign roles and permissions. 

2. Server application

The video SDK will run on the application server used by your business. This uses passwords from your third-party account to offer access to video services.

3. Client application

The customer app runs on a mobile or Web client. It uses third-party SDKs to post, collect, subscribe and execute information concerning RTC (Real-Time Communication).

How to Use a Video conferencing SDK

From creating a room to attending your first video conference, here are the steps to setting up your video SDK:

1. Creating a room

  • The server asks the SDK to build a meeting room for a recording.
  • The SDK validates the qualifications issued and generates a new space.
  • The video SDK responds with the special identifier Room SID which can be used in subsequent API requests.

2. Access token for client 1

  • Server 1 demands an application server authorization key. This is typically done after a client application’s HTTP request. 
  • The application server uses account credentials from the video SDK to create a protected access token.
  • Client 1 then gets an entry token, without which they will not be able to access the meeting room. 

3. Client 1 enters the meeting room

  • Client 1 connects to the room using the Video SDK link interface and validates their access using the exclusive entry token. 
  • The video SDK verifies the connection token. When it is found to be accurate, a signalling relation between the room and the client is created.

The same process is used to grant access to subsequent clients attempting to join the meeting room.

Recommended SDKs for the Best Video Conferencing Software for Enterprise Businesses

  1. Enablex.io – This Communication Platform as a Service (CPaaS) provider presents an omnichannel experience. The completely customizable features enable crystal-clear audio and video calls to create the best user experience possible.
  2. MirrorFly.com – MirrorFly provides feature-rich SDKs and APIs that incorporate highly flexible video chat features into existing apps, whatever they may be. It supports UI, add-ons, key functionalities, and hosting customizations. MirrorFly’s SDKs allow you to evaluate, customize, and handle real-time video conferencing.
  3. Eyeson.com – Use Eyeson to create a live streaming platform helps users to take advantage of new technology such as WebRTC.  Eyeson offers web-based or smartphone-based apps to stream live audio and video without additional plugins. 
  4. Twilio.com – Twilio has a programmable video SDK that uses WebRTC and cloud setups to build and integrate real-time audio-video functionality. The ‘In the Cloud’ feature also allows developers to plug real-time phone calls into applications without a hitch. 
  5. The Best Online Web Video Conferencing Software to Support Multiple Use Cases

    1. Government 

    Governments can use video SDKs to create highly secure conferring platforms. This significantly reduces the budget allocated for travel and allows leaders to be in touch constantly over important issues. 

    2. Digital Telehealth

    Studies suggest that 75 per cent of urgent care, doctors and hospital services can be easily done via video or telephone. Using video SDKs in a health setup saves time spent in travel and waiting in queues at clinics. Its also much more convenient for doctors to honour appointments and for patients to seek urgent relief. 

    3. Online Learning 

    In the wake of COVID19 and lockdowns, many schools and academic institutions have taken to online learning until such time as the danger has passed. Using video SDKs makes learning more imitative of a real classroom and provides additional functionality such as live chats and presentations. 

    4. Video Integration with CRM

    Entire sales workflows can be streamlined and made more effective by adding real-time video features. It helps increase lead-to-conversion ratios as well as reduce travel costs in the client onboarding stage. 

    5. Recruitment Process

    Video calling functionality speeds up the recruitment process. It allows both recruiters and interviewee to spend lesser time in preparation. It also reduces the number of delayed interviews and increases the pace and success rate of the hiring process. 

    Basic Collaboration Tools in Video Application SDKs

    The top video conferencing solutions for companies have the following essential collaboration tools:

  • Screensharing
  • Live chats
  • Presence moderation
  • Group discussions
  • Access to VOD
  • Conference management
  • Speech enhancement 
  • Speed and device optimisation

How Video Conferencing Will Change the Future of Business

If the latest video conferencing technology trends are anything to go by, the future of business is set to be revolutionised by video conferencing. It simplifies a lot of processes that were once considered doable only face to face or with an individual’s physical presence. Today, a lot of these processes have been taken online, leaving top talents free to pursue higher-level achievements and goals. 

1. Lower costs

Video conferencing can potentially shave off a large chunk of money set aside for travel, physical conferences and client onboarding. The cost of infrastructure and other consequent purchases can also be offset. 

2. Ease of HR processes

HR can function through the cloud and connect with other members of the organisation via video conferencing. This process also makes recruitment and reviews a much easier, less time-consuming process. 

3. Improved workplace structure

The workplace need not be physical any longer; it is just as functional online as it is offline. Video conferencing allows for more team flexibility and freedom; it also stabilises work-life balance, which has positive effects on employee happiness and retention. 

Conclusion

Integrating video conferencing technology into existing applications has many benefits vis a vis costs, structure and flexibility in the workforce. Video conferencing will feature prominently in the near future, so companies had best hop on board to reap the benefits.
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Hi I’m Alex. A voracious reader and loves to chew updates on upcoming web trends and technologies.

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