Plan to use Zoom outside of the US? Be ready for latency

A report found there are latency problems for Zoom users outside the US.

Video chat apps: What to consider when choosing between Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or another platform
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London-based network testing firm SamKnows has released a report detailing why Zoom users in the UK and elsewhere are experiencing latency issues: Zoom calls, no matter where they originate, are being routed through the US. In its study of latency issues in major video conferencing apps, SamKnows found that most of the platforms--Webex, Google Meet, GoToMeeting, Microsoft Teams, and Skype--ran with latency in the 20-30 millisecond range. The one exception to the typical low-latency response times of the apps surveyed was Zoom, which averaged 135 milliseconds of latency regardless of hour of the day it was tested.

"We found that this was true for every country that we tested from--not just the UK. Zoom are currently relaying all audio/video traffic via their servers in the US, regardless of the country the user is located in," the report stated. 

SEE: Zoom vs. Microsoft Teams, Google Meet, Cisco Webex and Skype: Choosing the right video-conferencing apps for you (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

SamKnows' testers found the same results when launching Zoom meetings from locations around the world. Every location from which calls were tested reported high latency and showed traffic routing to servers in the US.

"This is perhaps in response to the recent security concerns that have been levelled at Zoom, particularly around their use of servers in China," SamKnows said in its report. 

TechRepublic sister site CNET reported that, beginning on April 18, Zoom customers would be able to select which regional server their data is routed through. A blog post from Zoom about traffic routing confirms this, and states that Zoom has data centers in "the United States, Canada, Europe, India, Australia, China, Latin America, and Japan/Hong Kong SAR." Despite this, SamKnows is claiming that all Zoom traffic it tested was being routed through the US. This may be due to the original location where the testing users created their accounts: Zoom's blog post states that default regions are locked to accounts. If an account was created in the US, for example, the user would be locked to that location as their default region. That US user could choose to exclude other regions for routing, but never change their default one. 

Further, free accounts are "locked to data centers within their default region where their account is provisioned," and will be routed through those centers regardless of where they call from. I reached out to Zoom to get more information, but haven't heard back as of press time. This article will be updated if they respond.

In a frame-by-frame comparison of teleconference calls between two locations in London, SamKnows found that a call on Zoom was 120ms behind an identical call on Google Meet. That difference would barely be perceptible to most people, the report concedes, but that doesn't mean a small delay wouldn't cause trouble on a call.

"These small differences may account for users accidentally talking over one another more frequently when using Zoom, and other similarly small frustrations that are due to increased delay," the report said, adding that calls between nations in the Asia-Pacific region may have even more problems—its tests found an average of 170ms of latency in Australia.

With many workers around the world being forced to work remotely due to the COVID-19 epidemic, efficient communication at a distance is an important new part of any enterprise strategy. 

Organizations operating outside the US and US-based organizations that frequently have video conferencing meetings with participants outside the US might want to choose a Zoom alternative, like one of the platforms SamKnows reported on, or one of the Zoom alternatives covered by TechRepublic, at least until Zoom clarifies whether all data, regardless of which region it originates, is being routed through the US.

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Student on video call from his home during lockdown

Image: Alistair Berg / Getty Images