Multicast Internet Conferencing

Since early 1992, a multicast virtual network has been constructed over the Internet. This multicast backbone or Mbone[#mbone##1#] has been used for a number of applications including multimedia (audio, video and shared workspace) conferencing. These applications involved include vat (LBL's Visual Audio Tool), ivs (INRIA Videoconferencing System[#turletti##1#]), nv (Xerox's Network Video tool, [#frederick##1#]) and wb (LBL's shared whiteboard) amongst others. These applications have a number of things in common:
  • The are all based on IP Multicast.
  • They all report who is present in a conference by occasional multicasting of session information.
  • The different media are represented by separate applications
  • There is no conference control, other than each site deciding when and at what rate they send.
These applications are designed so that conferencing will scale effectively to large numbers of conferees. At the time of writing, they have been used to provide audio, video and shared whiteboard to conference with about 500 participants. Without multicast , this is clearly not possible. It is also clear that, with unreliable networks, these applications cannot achieve complete consistency between all participants, and so they do not attempt to do so - the conference control they support usually consists of:
  • Periodic (unreliable) multicast reports of receivers.
  • The ability to locally mute a sender if you do not wish to hear or see them. However, in some cases stopping the transmission at the sender is actually what is required.
Thus any form of conference control that is to work with these applications should at least provide these basic facilities, and should also have scaling properties that are <#1914#> no worse that the media applications themselves<#1914#>. The domains these applications have been applied to vary immensely. The same tools are used for small (say 20 participants), highly interactive conferences as for large (500 participants) dissemination of seminars, and the application developers are working towards being able to use these applications for ``broadcasts;SPM_quot; that scale towards millions of receivers. It should be clear that any proposed conference control scheme should not restrict the applicability of the applications it controls, and therefore should not impose any single conference control policy. For example we would like to be able to use the same audio encoding engine (such as vat), irrespective of the size of the conference or the conference control scheme imposed. This leads us to the conclusion that <#1915#> the media applications (audio, video, whiteboard, etc) should not provide any conference control facilities themselves, but should provide the handles for external conference control and whatever policy is suitable for the conference in question.<#1915#>