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CLIENT: IMAGINATION TECHNOLOGIES
July 29, 2012: Mobile Dev & Design
Saraj Mudigonda is business development manager for Imagination Technologies USA, which creates and licenses market-leading multimedia IP cores for graphics, video, and display processing, multi-threaded embedded processing/DSP cores, and multi-standard communications and connectivity processors. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Social media has become the de facto way to exchange information irrespective of whether you're at home, in the office, or on the move. It has become ubiquitous in our daily lives. The social media community now totals more than a billion users and will soon exceed the population of India and China.
So what are some of the technical and engineering challenges in developing a seamless two-way real-time video and voice communications platform across networks, devices, and popular social media entities? And what are the solutions?
No two networks, devices, or environments are the same. Fixed and mobile broadband coexist, with each outputting varied bandwidth and latency depending on the location. Social media and users aren't limited to one device.
Average time spent accessing social media apps on smart phones in the United States has far exceeded daily PC usage. Many phone manufacturers and mobile operators are working to standardize platforms and networks across the social media spectrum. Features, quality, and user experience need to be adapted based on networks, devices, and environments to launch two-way real-time voice and video on social media platforms.
No matter the screen size or type of device—smart phones, tablets, notebooks, or TVs—the challenge is to provide a consistent experience on every platform. Each has a different hardware architecture, including processors, acoustics, and cameras, and software architecture, including user interfaces and operating systems.
It's crucial that the applications are optimized and designed to provide a uniform user interface as well as an effective user experience across all devices. The quality of voice and resolution of video need to be adjusted based on the resources available on the platform. For example, low-resolution video may be used on a smart phone where the resources are limited and power optimization is a priority, compared to a notebook where high-definition video is feasible.
When it comes to the access network, social media is agnostic. Whether it's via fixed or mobile broadband, Internet connectivity is the key element. Latency and packet loss can vary with device connectivity to fixed Ethernet (traditional desktops), Wi-Fi, or a 3G/4G network. This is not a concern for non-real-time applications such as audio/video streaming, since they work fine on any of these access networks with appropriate buffering and data retransmission if required.
But for real-time communications on social media platforms, especially voice and video, any small delay or glitch is unacceptable. Real-time communication has to adapt dynamically, especially in an ever-changing and unpredictable wireless environment.
The application should switch on-the-fly to low-bit-rate codecs and cater to any packet losses in a lossy, bandwidth-limited wireless environment, providing a seamless user experience, and switch back to higher-rate codecs as the wireless channel improves. Recent technologies such as Long-Term Evolution (LTE) and some of the enterprise Wi-Fi networks do guarantee quality of service with dedicated bearers for real-time voice and video.
There are multiple variants of social media that can be broadly classified into two categories: consumer and enterprise. Because of the very nature of their usage, each has its own features, priorities, and requirements. These categories are fast converging with the enterprise now adopting "bring your own device" practices to support ease of use, enabling rich social experiences. Security is paramount in the enterprise scenario. Data and real-time Video Voice over Internet Protocol (V.VoIP) both have to be over a secured connection.
While the consumer environment is characterized by constant change, the enterprise environment is very controlled and guarantees certain predictability in terms of bandwidth, latency, and packet loss. There is a risk that the consumer user will refrain from using these real-time applications because of bad user experiences such as delays and breaks in voice and video. Thus, the consumer market demands the adaptive algorithms that can cater to these dynamic variations.
Does social media adhere to any standards? Interoperability? Not really. But real-time voice and video communications does.
Mobile operators with a subscriber base of more than 5 billion are gearing up to launch rich communications services based on the GSMA RCS (Rich Communication Suite) standards, which include a social presence service to publish rich status and receive profile updates from contacts. RCS also supports the voice and video for LTE networks based on the GSMA IR.92 and IR.94 standards respectively.
Interoperability between these numerous social media platforms will considerably augment the user experience. Just think how cool it will be if you will eventually be able to communicate with your wife on a consumer social media platform like Facebook or Google+ and with your boss in an enterprise environment from the same user interface—all without compromising privacy.
Social media can be accessed on diversified devices, networks, and environments. Phone manufacturers are rapidly responding to ever-increasing user demand by natively integrating social media. Mobile operators are also taking steps to adopt social media and see it as a major breakthrough to challenge over-the-top (OTT) applications. The stage is now set to take this integration to the next level by combining social media platforms with real-time V.VoIP.
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