What do I do if I have low bandwidth?

A lot of us are finding out for the first time that we don't have enough bandwidth for 24/7 streaming on video chat (especially not with multiple people doing it in the house at once). Here are some survival tactics.

Move around the house to find a better WiFi spot.

There are mobile apps that analyze the strength of a WiFi signal that you can use to find strong WiFi spots in your house. They may need to relocate their home office there for better connectivity.

Turn off one or more video streams within the video conference.

It is the video stream, not the audio stream, that takes a lot of bandwidth. If the audio is garbled, one workaround is to turn off your video to reduce bandwidth utilization. If it still sounds garbled, you may want to turn off viewing the other person’s video stream as well. This feature may or may not be supported by your video conference tool.

Generally, audio with no video streaming will almost always work even in low bandwidth situations. Screen share can generally still work even on low bandwidth situations. And so, giving up on being able to see the other participants in real time may be a reasonable compromise.

Coordinate with household members on video conferencing and streaming.

Another way to work around the bandwidth issue is to coordinate with household members for right-of-way on video streaming. For example, if person A has an important video call at a certain time, person B may need to hold off viewing YouTube videos until after the meeting is done.  It immensely improvesthe odds of a successful video call if only one device is streaming video at any given time.

Call in using your mobile phone.

If nothing else seems to work, you can always call into the conference by phone. This is generally something the host sets up as an option. I would recommend all hosts to enable calling in via the computer audio as well as calling in via a phoneline right now.

This is a throwback to the early 1990’s when all phone conferences worked this way. As the meeting host, if you know there is a possibility that some participants will need to call in by phone, you should send out materials ahead of time. During the meeting, whoever is presenting can verbally cue participants to advance to the next slide or page. This helps people on the phone follow along.  It’s not necessarily a modern experience – but we can make it work.

Upgrade to a higher bandwidth.

At the end of the day, a bandwidth problem can really only be solved by increasing the available bandwidth. 200 Mbps or above is recommended for successful video conferencing. If there are multiple household members who need to stream video at once, consider going to 300 or 400 Mbps for headroom.

Adapted from a blog post titled "Leading a virtual entrepreneurial team – Part 2. Surviving low bandwidth" by  Elaine Chen

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