Video conferencing is finally living up to its potential. Tayla Ansell explains why
On the face of it, video conferencing seems like an ideal solution for today’s globalised economy. The ability to bring people together across different geographical regions saves time, reduces travel costs and lowers carbon emissions, and,
unlike audio-conferencing, participants can see each other’s facial expressions and body language for a richer communications experience. So, why hasn’t video conferencing taken off in the way that people expected?
One reason, according to Yealink UK general manager Steve Watts, is the perception that video-conferencing is expensive and unaffordable for all but the biggest corporations. However, he suggests that this is now changing: “With the availability of solutions that won’t ‘break the bank’ and the increasing adoption of video in the consumer arena, affordable video conferencing solutions are gaining, and will continue to gain, traction,” he said.
Another explanation for why video conferencing didn’t take off initially is that the technology was too diffiult to set up and use. Today, things are much simpler. Because video-conferencing solutions tend to be interoperable you don’t have to use the same system as the person you wish to speak to and businesses have more freedom to choose a solution at a price point that suits them. Quality, too, has improved, with HD video now standard.
Kim Nguyen, product marketing manager at Cisco, a leader in collaboration technology, has noticed the effects of these changes. She said: “The market has undergone a transition in the past fie years, when we’ve seen doubledigit growth year-over-year largely due to Cisco’s ability to dramatically reduce the costs of our systems, with the last product refresh, without sacrifiing high quality and a reliable user experience. This, along with new innovations that make video-conferencing easier and more intuitive to use, such as intelligent cameras, the ability to integrate personal devices and easy deployment, has allowed Cisco to steadily increase our share and see overall growth in the video market.”
Nguyen predicts that in the future 50% of all conference rooms will have VC systems. She is not the only one bullish about the future. In its VC Endpoint Forecast 2014, Wainhouse says the number of meeting rooms worldwide with a laptop or PC running a videoconferencing device or service will rise by 73%, from 5.6 million to 9.7 million in 2018.
For Nguyen, social factors lie at the root of these changes, in particular the growing use of video in people’s personal lives. “I heard a statistic recently that Facebook hosts 100,000,000 hours of video a day. That’s a staggering number to illustrate the growing consumption of video. We think that’s going to increasingly translate into the workplace,” she said.
Mobile devices running popular apps such as Facetime and Skype have been key in familiarising consumers with video and, as StarLeaf’s director of marketing Michele Durban points out, they have also enabled corporate VC systems to
extend their reach across an increasingly mobile workforce.
“Today’s video solutions provide businesses with the ability to broadly deploy video as a software client on all mobile devices, allowing remote and travelling workers to remain engaged and available at all times. It really has become an anywhere, any time face-toface environment,” she said.
VC takes to the cloud
Cloud-based video conferencing services, like BlueJeans, StarLeaf, Cisco Jabber and Lifesize, have also had an impact, by giving businesses more choice and overcoming concerns about complexity and cost.
Anne Marie Ginn, senior category manager at Logitech for Business, Collaboration in EMEA, said: “Video conferencing is now a realistic option Personal solutions Facetime
Using a video calling app such as Apple’s Facetime is a free option and ideal for video calling while on the go. Apple currently only allows you to video call one-to-one, so Facetime can’t be used to video conference with several people in different locations.
An alternative to Facetime for Android device users is Google Hangouts. This, too, is free, and it has the added advantage of video chats for up to 10 people.
Basic Skype accounts allow you unlimited one-on-one and multi-user video chats (for up to 10 people) to other Skype users free of charge. Skype for Business starts from £1.30 per user per month and allows up to 250 people to have a meeting.
SIP phones with video
The T49GN SIP videophone from Yealink features an 8’’ LCD touch screen and a 2 megapixel HD camera, enabling realtime face-to-face interaction from your desk. An ideal solution for executives and homeworkers, the T49G supports three-way video conferencing or five-way audio/ video mixed conferencing.
The Cisco DX80 is an all-in-one desktop unit offering HD video and audio. The 23-inch touchscreen has a built-in camera and microphones, providing an engaging experience for video calls. Intelligent audio means background noise is eliminated, improving the experience for the remote party. The DX80 also acts as an external monitor for your laptop. It has a highcontrast LED panel and the screen can be angled to accommodate different users. Running on the Android operating system, the DX80 is compatible with Android applications and is intuitive to use.
The Cisco TelePresence SX10 Quick Set, an entry-level video system for small rooms, provides an effortless collaboration solution that can be deployed in less than ten minutes. The all-in-one unit combines a camera, codec and microphone in a compact device that sits on top of any standard display and provides HD video with a wide-angle feild of view.
Yealink offers solutions for small, mid-sized and corporate meeting rooms.
The VC110 from Yealink is a plug-andplay video conferencing endpoint for small meeting rooms that takes just fie minutes to set up. The all-in-one unit with built-in camera, microphone and codec supports Full-HD 1080P video and content sharing. Dual-screen support makes it even easier to view content.
For mid-sized rooms, Yealink offers the VC120 video conferencing endpoint, featuring an 18x optical zoom PTZ camera, while for boardrooms, it recommends the VC400 video conferencing system, offering embedded multi-party conferencing for up to four participants.
The VC110, VC120 and VC400 support SIP and H.323 and are compatible with the industry’s major vendors. Participants can also join in on a tablet or smartphone.
Logitech GROUP provides full HD video conferencing for groups of up to 14 people or for up to 20 with optional expansion microphones. The system has 1080p video quality, a 90-degree fild of view, 10x lossless zoom and smooth pan and tilt controls, making it easy to see everyone in a room.
GROUP is ideal for mid- to large-sized conference rooms and works with any computing device with a USB connection, as well as Bluetooth-enabled mobile devices for audio calls. It is compatible with leading applications, such as Skype for Business, Microsoft Lync, Cisco Jabber and WebEx. Logitech GROUP retails at £999.
Polycom says its RealPresence Centro is the industry’s fist collaboration solution purpose-built to put remote participants at the centre of collaboration. Designed to sit at the centre of a room with participants arranged around it, the unit has a touchsensitive monitor on each of its four sides. An intelligent 360° camera with tracking sensors allows everyone to easily see and be seen, even as they freely move around the space. All users have an equal opportunity to contribute and can share, annotate and save content from their own devices.
StarLeaf gives customers the flxibility to buy the conferencing service that meets their needs. You choose your device and pay to connect to the StarLeaf Cloud. StarLeaf offers its own range of meeting room systems, starting from £1,795, or you can use systems from Cisco, Polycom, Lifesize, Avaya and other vendors. StarLeaf removes the complexity and cost of management and enables users to call anyone, including those who use Microsoft Skype for Business as their client.
Immersive VC systems
The Cisco TelePresence IX5000 is an immersive system featuring three 70-inch high-defiition LCD screens that gets you as close to ‘being there’ as possible through an immersive audio and video experience. Three 4K Ultra HD cameras capture the entire room while a raised microphone bar allows optimal audio pickup. This powerful system provides an immersive experience with realsize, life-like remote meeting participation. But it comes with a hefty price tag. Kim Nguyen, product marketing manager at Cisco, said: “Even though the IX5000 has a list price of $300,000 USD, it has been a very popular product as customers see and appreciate the value of high-end immersive video collaboration. It experienced the fastest ramp of any immersive product, and we’re selling it as fast as we can make it.”
in the SME market too. These businesses cannot afford to have video collaboration hardware that is only compatible with dedicated-inroom systems, which are expensive infrastructures managed by the IT department. Instead, businesses are choosing software-agnostic platforms, giving them flxibility and choice over their end-user experience.”
One of the pioneers of cloud video conferencing, StarLeaf delivers secure, reliable and rich video-conferencing services to companies of all sizes. Whilst it does have its own conference room systems, StarLeaf says its service is also compatible with systems from other manufacturers, such as Cisco and Polycom.
Michele Durban argues that this flxibility has enabled it to disrupt the status quo for old-guard providers that have traditionally made their revenue from expensive, complex systems.
“We came to market to address the whole usability issue. Indeed, we’ve made making a video call as easy as making a phone call,” she said, “As a cloud service provider we’ve been able to address the management side of things by giving our customers a single management portal. And in terms of affordability, the cloud represents great value, as business do not need to buy any expensive or complex network infrastructure.”
It is also the case that people’s expectations are changing. For example, Logitech’s Ginn points out that millennials are more used to a flxible and collaborative workstyle and are entering the workplace expecting to have communication technology at their disposal. According to Cisco’s Nguyen, this familiarity is giving businesses the confience to use video as a market differentiator and a new source of revenue.
“One of our customers, a restaurant chain, has generated a new revenue source by opening its banquet rooms to host conferences with experts that come in over video,” she said. “The same chain uses video for its chefs to test out/collaborate on new menu items. Yet another customer, a small company, says video allows it to have puffer fish syndrome – to appear bigger than it is – and reach customers across the country in a more intimate and personal way.”
Businesses that were once put off by the perceived cost and complexity of video-conferencing may have a change of heart now that there is such a variety of offerings, from cloudbased solutions to completely immersive systems, at different price points. Like it or not, video-conferencing looks as though it’s here to stay.