Web conferencing for large groups in low bandwidth

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Original Message

From: Ewen Le Borgne, posted on 2013/02/13

Dear all,

As part of the KM4Dev Innovation Fund, our KM4Dev Ethiopia group has been awarded for its proposal on the 'African KM4Dev community week' - more information about how to get into this very soon, but for now I have a request for help:

Part of the proposed event is a 2 or 3-hour synchronous meeting across various African locations (at least where there is a somewhat active African community such as here in Addis, in Ouagadougou, Nairobi, Dakar, Nigeria etc.), with hopefully 50 to 150 participants (perhaps more if we're lucky?).

The question we have to you all is: What virtual conferencing would you recommend using, considering relatively low bandwidth issues: video- or audio-conferencing (e.g. WebEx or GoToMeeting etc.) and what do you anticipate would be costs of these options? We have some budget to lease video-conferencing facilities but thought that we could find cheaper and still effective facilities.

Any lead welcome - I'll summarize this on the wiki in due time if we get quite a few answers.




All replies in full are available in the discussion page. Contributions received with thanks from:

Pier Andrea Pirani
Tom Wambeke
Duncan Edwards
Kristina Pelikan
Jaap Pels
Karel Novotny
Viviana Palmieri
Ana Maria Ponce
Nancy White
Luz Marina Alvare

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From the various contributions, it seems that for relatively small group interactions, the best option seems to be Google Hangouts (which seem to operate better than e.g. Skype even in low bandwidth areas). For larger groups, good options seem to be AT&T Connect, GoTo Webinar and WebGathering - although all participants confessed that they hadn't tried a number of these options. Some of the technologies presented may not be working any longer as the marketplace of platforms is evolving over time.

For a more up-to-date overview of these platforms and comparative features, you can always look at this Wikipedia page: [1]

Detailed Description

Different solutions offered:

Examples in Application

  • (Pier Andrea Pirani, Euforic Services) I've been using quite often AT&T connect (formerly Interwise). While the interface and functionality may lack some more contemporary features, in my experience I never suffered from connectivity issues, the call was normally very stable even in low-bandwidth environments.
  • (Tom Wambeke, ILO) Back in the time also have used http://flashmeeting.e2bn.net/ and pretty much liked the visual approach of it.
  • (Duncan Edwards) I would recommend speaking with WebGathering (http://www.webgathering.net/) – they will provide the tech platform but they will also assist with facilitation and tech facilitation of online events. They are very experienced at providing these services in low connectivity situations across Africa, for example they facilitate the monthly Africa Hubs meetings which brings together people working in many of the Innovations and Technology Hubs across Africa (http://www.africahubs.webgathering.net/).
  • (Kristina Pelikan) we had a video session (including screensharing) for 3 days (about 6 hours/day) with partners in UK, Belgium, India, Uganda, Switzerland and South Africa - all connected at the same time. It went quite well, so we'll do it again in a few weeks (using Cisco Telepresence Movi).
  • (Karel Novotny) We researched all of these several years ago, needing something which allows for low-bandwidth participants, is not-that-expensive, but first of all.... is cross-platform (having many linux users in our network). Web-ex and Go-to-Meeting simply didn't work on linux by then and Adobe Connect used to be quite costly (and there were also technology-related issues on linux). We went for elluminate that since then transformed into Blackboard Collaborate. We liked its declared usability on all systems, and the fact that it put big emphasis on security. And if I remember correctly, the service was Canada-based (not US), which was also a plus for us. We've used it extensively for number of years and were generally happy with functionalities and the way it deals with bandwidth (when bandwidth goes down, it buffers the voice and then replays is in faster mode with higher pitch - a lot of fun). But we've had a lot of issues with people not being able to connect properly, or to use audio, particularly on linux. Java related problems. And Elluminate's/BC's support basically wash their hands when it comes to resolving linux java-related troubles.
  • (Viviana Palmieri) We have had several videoconferences with up to 7 participants in google+ hangout. Acceptable video and sound, but haven't tried with more people connected.
  • (Luz Marina Alvare, IFPRI) GotoWebinar works very smoothly in countries like Nigeria, Ethiopia.

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