Video Conferencing – It Finally Works
By Harold German
Remember those bulky, expensive video conferencing systems you would see in well-equipped conference rooms not too long ago? You know, the ones the office manager never allowed you to touch? Every now and then, you were invited to sit in on a video meeting and you would curiously await the pixel face on the screen. By all accounts, the one-time fuzzy, unreliable and inaccessible technology known as collaborative technologies are making a more pronounced and permanent impression on organizations of all sizes. Regardless of what industry you work in, conferencing technologies are quickly becoming a smart and efficient way for you to improve the way you work.
The appeal of collaborative capability is not new. Collaboration technologies like Web and video conferencing have been around for some time, the latter for more than a decade. The fact is that face-to-face meetings are vital to the success of all business relationships and work-related projects. However, collaborating in today’s fast-paced, ever-connected world demands that we be at all places at once. The only way to maintain this level of communication without ringing up hundreds of thousands of dollars in travel costs and losing hundreds of valuable hours in productivity every year is by incorporating conferencing technologies into the mix.
Video conferencing, for its part, has redefined the face-to-face meeting. Over the course of three years, Wainhouse Research, an independent market research firm covering the conferencing and communications fields, conducted a detailed study into the incorporation of collaborative technologies in the work environment. The data revealed that people are increasing their reliance on these technologies and this demand is coming from various industries, including legal, government, education, and manufacturing, among others.
There are several trends that have spurred the recent growth in conferencing:
Most companies using video conferencing conduct their meetings over ISDN lines (Integrated Services Digital Network). Although it has always been the most affordable medium for video communication, ISDN is plagued by performance, reliability and image quality issues. For years, the typical conferencing user has had to deal with the dreaded dropped call. Imagine being in the middle of an important board meeting with senior-level, international attendees and the call abruptly ends due to a service interruption. For this reason, large corporations accepted the initially higher costs of IP Networks (Internet Protocol), and enjoyed relatively uninterrupted service.
For the last few years, however, there has been a significant migration to these IP networks, a medium that is much more robust and has recently become more affordable. Used almost exclusively by larger organizations to-date, video over IP is rapidly gaining adoption among mid and small-sized companies. The image quality of the video calls is superior, the point-of-entry is significantly lower and the call connections are more reliable. Some service providers even guarantee their network’s uptime. IVCi, LLC, for instance, touts a 99.99% guaranteed network uptime behind flagship service IntelliNet, which is used by some of the nation’s largest companies.
Video call quality is constantly improving, with this trend continuing due to H.264, a newly ratified video compression standard by the Switzerland-based International Telecommunication Union. H.264 aims to cut the necessary bandwidth for sending video during a videoconference in half. This translates into improved call clarity/definition and an increase in simultaneous call capacity. It also means that there is a substantial reduction in the bandwidth needed to hold video conferences. This year a call placed over a 256k IP connection (substandard economy class) looks as good as if it was placed on a 384k IP connection (quality business class) last year. This means that companies of all sizes can now enjoy the same quality only larger corporations had access to. Due to the fact that less bandwidth is needed to conduct better quality video calls, IT departments are more interested than ever since they can now devote less departmental resources and reduce the recurring operating costs associated with implementing video conferencing.
With escalating international violence and terrorism still a point of concern for many business professionals around the world, conferencing companies realize that the technology is more relevant than ever, and with enhanced quality and reliability, demand will only continue to grow. What is happening in the conferencing technologies space can be best described as a communications phenomenon; akin to the boom of the home computer in the 80’s. It was only a couple of years ago that revolutionary technologies like video conferencing were only available to large companies with equally large budgets. This has changed in the advent of the ‘consumeration’ of conferencing technologies.
Two years ago, you could have expected to spend $30,000 on two video conferencing units and many thousands of dollars on monthly network usage fees for a modest package linking two offices. Although big firms were happy to pay these prices to eliminate travel cost and productivity loss, the formidable upfront costs were a barrier to entry for smaller companies. Entry-level products start at as little as $400 and maintenance-free, unlimited-use services packages start at $500 per month. One year ago, a simple package linking two offices in different geographical regions with the high-end IP service would have cost tens of thousands of dollars in set-up, network integration and maintenance. Today, the same package can be purchased for as little as four thousand dollars. Last year, a study by Wainhouse Research, showed that companies could expect to break even twelve months after implementing a video conferencing system, factoring in cost savings associated with business travel, lodging and dining. Today, companies can easily break even after two to three months after implementation.
A Different World
It’s a different world out there. All accounts suggest that people around the world feel less safe and they are turning to efficient methods of communications that will allow them to communicate without taking the risks and drawbacks associated with traveling to their meetings. If it’s safer, more affordable and efficient to meet face-to-face over video than it is face-to-face in person, companies will always select the former because both accomplish the same result and provide the same effect. A recent report showed that employees still would prefer not to fly to their next out-of-town business meeting. Employers also prefer that their employees not fly since it is estimated that companies can reduce their traveling expenditures by more than fifty percent every year by simply introducing video conferencing to their overall communications program. In many cases, the savings equate to hundreds of thousands of dollars. For most companies, that’s all the proof they need.
For many years, Harold German has been recognized as a knowledgeable source for information on corporate branding methodologies. A director at IVCi, LLC, whose divisions include IVCi Audio Visual and IVCi Home. Mr. German is a renowned author and contributor, with appearances in noted international publications such as The Economist, and on news stations such as CNN. Mr. German covers IP networks and the future of conferencing technologies.