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Teleconferencing Across the Border

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University Medical Center’s Medical Television and Teleconferencing in Tucson has put together a mobile teleconferencing unit.  Next month, it's off to Nogales, Ariz. for a four-way conference involving sites across Southern Arizona, and across the border.

The all day conference, presented for teachers and parents, will focus on how to better manage behavior in children with autism.

Involved in the connection will be three Arizona cities: Douglas, Somerton and Nogales. They will connect across the border to Nogales, Sonora.

“It is easier to do a videoconference where you have point to point, one site to one site,” said Larry McAlister, a media specialist with Medical Television and Teleconferencing at UMC. “When you start adding multiple sites, it gets a little tricky.”

Medical Television ventured out to the site in Nogales, Ariz. last week to test the connection before the March conference.  While the connection was made relatively successfully, there was one concern.

“The bandwidth, or speed of the internet, is very important in teleconferencing,” McAlister said. “In Mexico, the bandwidth was a lot slower.”

According to McAlister, a preferred bandwidth for teleconferencing is at least 768 kbps or kilobits per second. He said the site in Nogales, Sonora, had a speed of 192 kbps.

“If you have multiple sites, whoever has the slowest speed brings the rest of the participants down,” McAlister said. “So if you have slow bandwidth on one site, all of the sites will experience poor quality video and audio.”

A lower broadband speed can cause choppy movements, breaks in audio, and an overall lack of consistency in the quality of the connection.

Cochise College [in Douglas, Ariz.] is at something like 790 kbps and to ask them to lower down to 192 kbps, could ruin the conference,” said Dr. Burris Duncan, a University of Arizona professor of Public Health and Pediatrics who helped organize the event. “I can’t jeopardize that.”

So the question is, can the site in Mexico raise their bandwidth before the March conference?

“They are working on increasing it, but we don’t know for sure if they will be able to,” Duncan said. “I’m told that for someone who knows how to do it, it's not too difficult, but I have no idea.”

There are a few alternative options if Mexico cannot increase the speed before then. Among the ideas are to have them participate by phone or perhaps join in by Skype.  While neither option is ideal, Duncan and the teleconference team are still brainstorming.

“Skype isn’t the same,” Duncan said. “If the speaker wanders, you can’t stay on him or you can’t switch back between a speaker and presentation.”

McAlister and Duncan are keeping in contact with the site in Sonora, awaiting updates on any changes in their broadband speed. The conference is set for Friday, March 4.

"It makes it [teleconferencing] even more tricky to go into a foreign country because there are a lot of variables,” McAlister said.

Written by Erica Coleman

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