Opening up the Conversations

This is a quick post, on something I feel needs airing. I don’t normally go around recommending products (unless anyone wants to pay me handsomely for doing so, and that’s a different thing altogether).

Today there was a very interesting event going on. It was in London, as these things usually are. I made the point that I was disappointed that there was no video or audio feed as it was a debate I feel needs wide participation. The response came back, via Twitter, that this was not possible because the wifi connection wasn’t good enough.

Now, leaving aside the question as to why events are being held in venues with dodgy wifi in the second decade of the 21st Century; I am no longer accepting this as an excuse. I’ve done live video as well as audio over 3G connections. It can be flaky at times, but, provided you test it beforehand, the results can often be surprising. And, if it’s not good enough for video, then audio is good enough for events that are mainly about talking any way. I use an app call Twitcasting which is available for iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Android devices, and does pretty good quality live audio. I’ve done it over a 3G connection from the Great Yorkshire Show in the middle of a field. See here. And, if you don’t have an iOS or Android device, you can use iPadio which puts the audio from a telephone call live on the web (at telephone call sound quality).

My mifi

My mifi from Three

Ah, but I hear you say, 3G data charges can be expensive for this sort of thing. And you might be right. But, the solution I use is the mifi from Three. This gets surprisingly good signal quality in lots of different areas. It creates a wifi hotspot, which up to 5 devices (computers, phones, tablets, etc) can be connected to, and get internet connectivity over the 3G network. And, I have found, in a number of cases, that the connection it offers can be faster than a wifi network. You can buy the mifi here for £72, preloaded with 3GB of data. And, the advantage of using the PAYG option, is that you have control over how much data you use, and won’t be worried about running up large bills. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it for doing lots of video, but you can get an awful lot of audio in 3GB. Having said that, this is a test I did, in my local park, using the mifi with a netbook and an HD webcam. This shows it can produce pretty good results

Before you try broadcasting anything, do a speed test of the network, using For live video, if you are getting 1Mbps or more UPLOAD speed, you should be OK, providing you don’t want HD quality. For live audio, you might get away with 250Kbps (upload) or even less.  Mifis are meant to be portable devices, but, the advantage of using them in fixed locations is that they will work while plugged into the mains, which gets over battery life issues. Remember, also, to test out where you get the best 3G signal in the location. This is likely to be near a window, but check if the signal is better on one side of the building than another. Another really good thing about the mifi is that, unlike a dongle, the camera and the connection don’t have to be physically connected to each other, so the mifi can be moved to where the signal is better.

I hope someone finds this of use, and that it leads to more events being open to public participation. Oh, and if anyone from Three is reading this and would like to reward me for this unsolicited endorsement, you can contact me here.

5 thoughts on “Opening up the Conversations

  1. John
    Notwithstanding the very useful post above, the real reason we didnt do a video/audio feed was because we didnt have the foresight to think this through. If we had done, I think we might have (erroneously) concluded that it was too difficult/expensive.

    As one of the organising bodies, I think we are more tech savvy than many of our counterparts in the sector: but we are still clearly behind the curve of what is feasible, particularly with limited resources. (BTW, we host events here too – and I know from the facilities manager that they find getting good wifi in the building has proved really difficult – again, we dont necessarily have the knowledge or expertise…and we therefore get presented with expensive solutions)
    Anyway, the blogpost is a great help.

    • If a building has a decent wired ethernet infrastructure, and internet connectivity behind that, then you’re just looking at plugging in 3 or 4 access points on widely spaced channels within a large contiguous space. At less than £100 each it shouldn’t be expensive.

  2. I was on the hunt for wifi in a library near where I live recently and was rather shocked that they didn’t have it – they signposted me to coffee shops (where it’s not free) and didn’t mention the one lounge bar where it is free!
    I agree with you about the versatility, cost-effectiveness and all round usefulness of the Three mifi – all of Dudley’s Social Media Surgeries have run on our mifi and it’s been great – costs us £3 or £6 each time now on PAYG, depending on whether we use one or two (would be even better if the cafe got wifi…hopefully one day)

  3. Hi John,

    As video conferencing and video communication becomes more mainstream I hope events like those you mention become more accessible.

    I actually think people would be suprised at some of the more cost effective platforms that can be found on net that provide excellent video conferencing that will reach all across world.

    I hope the frustrations you experienced will become a thing of the past very very soon. I have my fingers crossed anyway. But I will definitely check out the Three Mifi, looks very useful.


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