Should Skype for Business (Lync) change the way companies look at video conferencing?


Part 2 of 3 blogs on the changing nature of the use of video conferencing


In May of this year Microsoft launched Skype for business (SfB), a rebranded but improved version of Lync. If you missed this somehow (there was a HUGE amount of noise made) you can catch up on all of the changes in our blogs – 3 new features of SfB, why is SfB better than Skype and 5 things to consider when implementing SfB.

In the last blog I discussed how there appeared to be a change in endpoint sales and that services such as SfB or Videocall’s ICE (Intelligent Cloud Experience) VaaS are changing the way that companies are approaching video conferencing and telepresence, driven by a change in working habits and a move to cloud services.

Back in May 2011 it was confirmed that Microsoft would be buying Skype, a peer to peer video service with then 663 million global users. Analysts questioned the £5.2bn price tag for a company that was barely making a profit, but even 5 years ago it might have been hard to predict the continued rapid rise in video conferencing within business.

Microsoft appears however to be on to a winning formula. By adding Skypes usage familiarity with the basic business function that Lync offers, SfB has fast become one of the first places companies will look at when considering video conferencing.

It’s not really surprising though when you think about it. Skype for business now comes with Microsoft Office 2013 and Office 365 (with certain levels of package) – The majority of companies are using one or both of these. Therefore to start basic video conferencing the only outlay a company might need is a video enabled laptop/desktop or a web camera, speakers and microphone/headset.   

A new SfB app will be available on iOS and Android mobile devices very soon. Skype of course has been around for a long number of years, the business version is being ‘beta tested’ as you read this. Full launch to follow imminently.

On the face of it, it seems that SfB could be the answer for companies to fulfil all their video conferencing needs then? Right?

Well actually no.


Yes SfB is great to start with, and it is probably a good solution for SME’s or companies that are not planning on using video conferencing often. If however you are a larger enterprise company, you have a workforce that is spread out nationally or globally or you are set to become heavy users of video meetings then you might come across some problems.

Bandwidth is going to be the first issue. When the number of video conferencing calls starts to increase inside an office SfB may start to struggle, drop calls and have latency errors. Why?   

Skype and SfB is essentially a peer to peer (P2P) service. This means that in theory the two video enabled devices are connected directly via IP addresses. When using it in a business sense, this direct connecting is not achieved due to Network Address Translation and multiple employees all using the same IP address. SfB has to use ‘relay nodes’ – which in real terms are other computers (outside of the office) that have UDP P2P capability and good broadband speed to relay the connection. Don’t worry, it all stays encrypted, but you are relying on outside bandwidth of what is likely to be a residential address.  

The next point is on communication. SfB connects through 1 edge server for all offices and all communication. This means for example, that for your staff in offices in New York and Chicago to hold a video conference, all traffic is directed through the edge server which is at the company headquarters in London. Even someone connecting to a home user would have to have traffic go through the edge server wherever it is located.   

Finally, one last thing to note is that there is only ‘all on’ or ‘all off’ control over content sharing. Which means either everyone can or everyone cannot share content. Full collaboration is a key factor in video conferencing for many companies, speeding up decision making time and streamlining processes. Content sharing however takes up a large amount of bandwidth, so should a number of conferences be happening at once, with content being shared by all; the network is likely to struggle.

So there is no doubt that SfB is excellent for video conferencing. Its availability and ease of use will certainly help some companies to find out how ubiquitous a service it can be. Using SfB as part of a larger picture; to access a better, more robust service is what we would suggest. Just make sure that you don’t end up with only a VMR on the internet.

Why? Well we talk about that in part 3.


Image courtesy of Polycom