Categories: Hybrid Work

The Problem with Latency Part 2: Could a New Protocol Be Part of the Solution?

In the first part of this series, user experience researcher Vanessa Costa-Massimo talked about the psychological impact latency can have when we use real-time video conferencing apps for collaboration. When we experience latency, our first instinct is to place blame not on poor network connections, but on the people we’re talking to.

This issue of latency isn’t limited to real-time collaboration apps like Webex. There are other major markets that experience pain points with latency, and a big one is the live-streaming market.

A few of us at Cisco are working with the Internet Engineering Task Force on a solution: a new protocol called Media Over QUIC. (One of our collaborators, Luke Curley, wrote a great post about how Media Over QUIC will replace WebRTC.)

Here’s how I see Media Over QUIC solving many of the problems associated with latency — for both real-time collaboration and live streaming.

Live streaming: Is it really live?

Live streaming can be anywhere from a couple of seconds to upwards of 10 seconds delayed because of latency, depending on your connection and protocols being used. This can be problematic. Say you’re live streaming a big soccer match, and your neighbors are watching on their regular TV. If you hear them cheering a few seconds — even half a second — before you see the goal yourself, it can ruin your watching experience entirely.

These delays pose another issue: Think about live streaming on platforms like Twitch or Facebook. Viewers comment, but because of that ever-so-slight delay, there’s no real-time back-and-forth between viewers and streamers. Streamers will see user comments seconds later and might respond even seconds after that. Real-time interactivity is often limited with live streaming, though there’s clearly a thirst for it.

When we need that real-time back and forth, we switch over to platforms like Webex, Zoom, and the like. But then we’re stuck with the latency issues Vanessa shared. What’s more, we’re limited in size. We can have 1,000 participants max on a Webex video call. By comparison, Twitch streamers can reach an audience upwards of 3.4 million.

We have two converging problems: Real-time collaboration apps want low latency, high quality, and a wider reach. The live-streaming industry would like to bring down latency to allow for real-time interactivity. Neither has been able to make significant progress, and they probably won’t if they continue to make incremental improvements (in other words, scaling up to 2,000 from 1,000 participants).

We need something disruptive

Media Over QUIC is a publisher/subscriber protocol that has the potential to bring together the best of both worlds — the responsiveness of real-time voice and video conferencing and the scale and reach of larger-scale streaming — solving problems for both industries. Several people from a range of companies have formed a working group with other members of the Internet Engineering Task Force. It’s early days, but Media Over QUIC would greatly improve latency and allow for real-time interaction at a large scale. It meets use cases like streaming apps, e-sports, gaming, and real-time conferencing, among others.

What sets Media Over QUIC apart is the use of media relays as cache points to store content, cutting down on data travel time (which slashes latency significantly) and backfilling lost content to improve poor video and audio quality. If used the right way, Media Over QUIC has the potential to yield an incredible real-time experience on a wide scale, no matter your Internet connection. It also forms the basis for a highly scalable and low-latency publish/subscribe networks that can be used by many types of applications.

This protocol is a way to drive the world forward — redefining how we build Internet applications while making a quality media experience more accessible around the world. I’m excited to see the differences it will make in how we collaborate in the future.

Learn more about Media Over QUIC here.

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Cullen Jennings

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