Facebook's announcement last week about the launch of new video chat functionality didn't necessarily come as a surprise, but it certainly did its part to escalate the competition among the social networks. (Google+, announced just a week earlier, inherently includes a "hangouts" feature that allows group video chat--something not yet supported by Facebook--for up to 10 people.)
It also led to initial questions about how the new feature would affect Facebook's performance and load capacity. The short answer? It likely won't.
Here's why. To enable video chatting amongst Facebook friends, Video Calling relies on a proprietary API developed by Skype. The normal Facebook directory services, which Facebook does very well, allow you to see your friends, their status updates, and chat instantly with anyone online. Now this will support the ability to initiate a video call as well so there will be no extra load. (For more details on exactly how Video Calling works, X-bit labs has a great explanation.)
For its own part, Skype has increased server counts and added bandwidth in its data centers to ensure smooth video delivery to Facebook's 750+ million users--no small jump from the 170+ million users Skype is used to.
What is perhaps most interesting about Video Calling is the way it is consumerizing the consumption of video, much like how Facebook (and AOL more than a decade ago) have consumerized being online. It's extending Skype's reach to a far wider and maybe less technical audience.
As Video Calling (and other features like it) become more available and trafficked, it will be interesting to see the impact on the Internet as a whole. For example, how will consumers react to these high bandwidth consumption services as bandwidth caps become more prevalent with ISPs? According to a recent Sandvine report, Netflix now accounts for 29.7 percent of all fixed access network downstream traffic during peak period and has become the largest source of Internet traffic overall. As ISPs are forced to respond to the increasing load brought on by the growing consumption of video calling and streaming, will more consumers find themselves victim to exceeding monthly data cap restrictions?