Citrix GotoMeeting Trialing HD, But Not Where It Counts

GotoMeeting-Hates-HDVoice I’ve been a customer of GotoMeeting for many years. I’ve used the service largely as a means to gain remote access to customers systems for the purpose of remote maintenance and diagnostics. I was driven to its use by the ABC group of stations, whose corporate network is seriously locked down. Since then my employer has become an avid user of their GotoAssist product, which is actually better suited to our activities.

We have also used GotoMeeting for its more traditional purpose of making online presentations.  Since our staff are distributed around the US and UK it’s been a handy platform for giving presentations. At $50/mo the cost/benefit balance of the service is very good. It lets use do more while travelling less, which is a win/win combination.

Early in our use of GotoMeeting we tried to use the voice conferencing facet of the service. However, at that time we found it wanting. Call quality was extremely variable, never very good. Thus we adopted the habit of using GotoMeeting for the presentation/desktop sharing, but a separate conference bridge to handle voice calls.

I understand that GotoMeeting has since reworked the audio side of their service, which is reported to be more reliable and higher quality. Even so, it remains largely focused on PSTN interconnectivity. There is effectively embedded soft phone functionality in the GotoMeeting client, but all other access is via traditional PSTN gateways. That means that it’s core audio capabilities remain firmly rooted in the 1930’s era audio standards of the legacy PSTN…which is really very sad.

Fear not, dear reader. For some time ago Citrix, corporate parent of GotoMeeting, bought HiDef Conferencing. Vapps originally created HiDef Conferencing as a conference bridge that could tie-in Skype clients in wideband. HiDef Conferencing uses the GIPS iSac codec which was, at the time, the preferred codec in use by Skype. iSac is designed for use on IP networks and features a sample rate of 16 KHz at data rates of 10 – 32 kbps.

That HiDef Conferencing includes Skype connectivity is certainly novel. However, all other connectivity is via the PSTN, making it otherwise basically uninteresting.

Is Skype so pervasive that it should the only means of wideband access? I don’t think so. Skype struggles to make inroads into enterprise-space where G.722-capable SIP hardware & software is dead common.

When I asked the folks at GotoMeeting about wideband audio they referred me to a FAQ item that gives instructions for passing dial-in instructions from HiDef Conferencing in a GotoMeeting invitation. It seems that the two services remain entirely separate despite their corporate parentage. That also means that you must pay for separate accounts for each service.

All of this is merely preface to a larger story, for a short while ago Citrix held and event called Citrix Synergy 2011 in support of its various service & product offerings. One of the announcements arising out of that event was the launch of of a public beta program for a new release of their GotoMeeting service with HDFaces. This new release is supposed to support HD video using the new generation of webcams.

Citrix-GotoMeeting-HDFaces

The paradox of the name of the conference, Citrix Synergy 2011, is truly striking given that they don’t seem to have found appreciable synergy between the two corporate siblings; GotoMeeting and HiDef Conferencing.

In all of the years that we’ve used GotoMeeting we have never…not even once…felt the desire to use it in conjunction with webcams. Perhaps our application simply doesn’t go in that direction, but I suspect we are not alone in this feeling.

In contrast, we have been using a separate, wideband capable audio bridge for almost two years. Further, we have spent money to have wideband capable hard phones, and soft phones for travelling staff. Within the company it is clearly understood that wideband voice significantly enhances the conference call experience.

suckometer-250Using wideband telephony calls are easier to understand, less fatiguing and in general more enjoyable. OK, “enjoyable” is a stretch. It’s perhaps more appropriate to say that “using wideband voice makes long conference calls suck less than before.” (Thank you Nicorette ads for the Suck-o-meter!)

Our own positive experience using wideband voice, and not using video at all, calls into question the Citrix strategy of webcams & video. Video is a huge resource hog.

Of course, if your CEO fancies seeing his face on desktops across the company, then your motivation is perhaps more clear. In our case it would be much better if Citrix would implement wideband voice within their client application.

I wonder how many of their users participate via the client applet vs PSTN dial-in? Those who get their audio connection via the desktop applet are surely connected via IP, so better than wideband audio is very possible, even without using Skype.

There are lots of existing precedents to consider. For example, Vivox has long provided “super-wideband” audio for online gamers. They leverage the Polycom Siren14 codec giving them near FM quality voice with minimal CPU or bandwidth burden. Vivox is also a technology partner involved in T-Mobile’s new voice-chat-via-Facebook play called “Bobsled”

Of course, Skype has used iSac and more recently SILK to provide very high-quality to desktop and mobile clients. I also hold Skype as a great example of a company that has done a good job of informing its users about how to ensure excellent call quality. They typically give sound advice about good quality audio devices, covering various use cases, platforms and price points.

If the GotoMeeting client applet supported wideband audio their audio conference servers would need similar support. This was once uncommon, but is now readily available. Transcoding between narrowband wideband has proven trivial from a hardware resource perspective. Ask WydeVoice for details, although they are just one of many in that space.

It seems to me that offering HD video without first supporting wideband audio (aka HDVoice) is actually kind of silly. Every video conference service that I’ve ever tried has had or was planning support for wideband audio.

So to Citrix I must say, if you’re making a priority list of things to do…broad, native support for HDVoice, including dial-in by SIP URI, comes before of HD video.

  • Greg

    Great article, and well thought out. I think the missing link to this puzzle is the firewall. The value of the GotoMeeting and GotoAssist products is their ability to traverse firewalls with no issues. This is also a benefit that Skype enjoys.

    You mention that G.722-capable SIP hardware & software is dead common in the enterprise, however try making a SIP call into or out of the typical corporate firewall. It simply will not work. The PSTN sadly, is still the gateway to outside organizations.

    So the real questions is why do organizations accept sharing video and desktops outside of their firewall, but audio (via SIP) is blocked?

    • Greg,

      OK, maybe that’s an issue for SIP. But what about their installed soft client? I presume that a significant number of users leverage that as their path to the audio portion of the session. That should be wideband capable and doesn’t need to be SIP. It could be IAX2, although that’d be very funny. It could be a anything since it’s in their client.