All the potential that our smartphone and video calling technologies have to create instant face-to-face connections is dependent on bandwidth availability. Every remote business meeting, every personal video chat is tethered to a chain of metal towers that transmits data through the air at the behest of a select group of commercial carriers. Even the riches of some of the world’s biggest companies like Google, Apple, and Facebook aren’t enough to break through this reality.
The best video conferencing software for low bandwidth situations focuses on maximizing the available capacity for data transfer. If you live in or regularly pass through one of the dark patches in our cellular constellation, you need mobile video conferencing solutions built to survive in these suboptimal conditions.
Tied to Networks
Elon Musk is about to become a video conferencing hero. His SpaceX ambition to bring high-grade, satellite-powered internet connectivity to every corner of the planet through a series of orbiting transmitters is a tempting, tangible alternative to our current reliance on cellular networks. While the promises of the impending 5G network upgrades will greatly expand the capacity of mobile video conferencing, they won’t do much to improve its coverage.
We’ll still be tied to the population-centric combinations of transmission towers that currently dot the urban landscape. People searching for a signal beyond the edges of urban density will continue to face connection issues.
The truth is that the software and hardware available in our smartphones still largely relies on the infrastructure of the leading telecommunications companies to host a video call. As the list below of the best video conferencing software for low bandwidth will attest, the most we can expect from our video calling options is the flexibility to minimize data demands and switch between services.
The best weapon you have in the fight for connectivity in poor calling conditions is the ability to switch between traditional cellular network services and localized broadband-based wifi.
Wifi Versus Cellular
Many mobile video calling platforms now let you move between wifi and cellular network connections, including Skype, WhatsApp, and FaceTime. Whereas cellular services are connected to a particular carrier’s 3G, 4G, or 5G tower-transmitted network, wifi connections are launched from localized broadband points Just like the router in your home that relays a signal out to the immediate surrounding area, publicly accessible wifi hotspots can act as boosters for remote video calls–you could, for example, tap into a strong wifi connection at a roadside coffee shop even though the surrounding countryside offers poor or no network coverage.
Another important step to take in low bandwidth environments or in order to limit data usage is to use your phone’s settings to restrict it to 2G or 3G. You should still be able to make video calls, but limiting the system this way will cause whichever video conferencing app you choose to lower the quality of the call, consuming less data.
The Best Video Conferencing Software for Low Bandwidth
Let’s take a look at five of the best video conferencing software options for low bandwidth conditions.
A name long synonymous with video calling, Skype provides some of the best coverage for video calling. The lower bandwidth thresholds for hosting a video call between two endpoints descend to a tiny 300kps for both downloads and uploads. Your needs will increase to a still highly accessible 1.5Mbps for HD calls, and even group calls of up to five people have a minimum recommended connection speed of around 4Mbps.
Given that the service remains free and is constantly being updated–the maximum group call number was recently increased to 50, for example–it is as reliable a platform as you’ll find.
Like Skype, WhatsApp’s most valuable assets are cost and accessibility. While almost all network carriers will include any data use in your plan quota, there’s no cost for placing a video call. WhatsApp also automatically adjusts its call quality according to the quality of your internet connection and the app is highly customizable so you can restrict the amount of data consumed on a call and control the size and regularity of updates.
We’re not big fans of Apple’s continued refusal to let FaceTime users make video calls to Android devices, but in the case of iOS-to-iOS mobile connections, there’s no service more reliable than FaceTime. The product generally outperforms Skype in terms of bandwidth requirements on both wifi and cellular connections. Thankfully, as of iOS 12, Facetime can now also compete with Microsoft’s flagship app as a group video platform. Up to 32 people can gather together online using a well-designed service that includes active speaker technology and a range of augmented reality apps that give it an edge over most rivals on this list.
While we generally regard BlueJeans as a desktop-bound, enterprise-level video solution, it does have a powerful mobile app. After undergoing a major upgrade in 2018, it now includes a “smart” connection feature that automatically monitors network availability and makes recommendations on the best possible service. It’s a handy feature for making video calls on the move, especially if you’re moving between the reliability of large urban areas.
Currently the hottest property in the small business video calling market, Zoom also offers a streamlined and intelligent mobile service. Its lowest bandwidth requirements are a little more greedy than Skype or FaceTime–600kbps upload and download for a one-on-one call–but you can host an HD-quality call under the competitive conditions of around 3Mbps each way. Its data consumption rates are highly customizable, and the app will automatically adjust the quality of the call based on whether a wifi or cellular connection is being used.
As with BlueJeans, you’ll need a paid subscription to get the most out of the platform, but that cost does come with the confidence that you’ll be able to move wherever your business demands across the U.S. without losing connectivity.