While video conferencing may be the unified communications (UC) Holy Grail it has proved every bit as elusive. Or so it has seemed for at least a decade anyway.
“Every year they say video has come into its own. We have heard that for the last 10 years. But all of a sudden now it is really picking up,” said Bill Rasmussen, a solutions architect with Project Leadership Associates, a Chicago based IT consulting firm.
But maybe this time it's truly different. The facts are on his side:
“This is the year of video conference in enterprise,” proclaimed David Danto, a longtime video conferencing expert who is a consultant with global IT services firm Dimension Data. Every metric, said Danto, points to a sharp uptick in video conference usage.
Infonetics, the Boson based researchers, underlines that prediction with their estimate in a report issued a couple weeks ago that $22 billion will be spent on video conferencing and telepresence gear from 2012 to 2016. Infonetics described this as “surging” demand. It added that, in 2011 alone, demand jumped 34 percent and the market hit $3 billion.
The single biggest hurdle to video conferencing’s spread is cost, said experts, who indicate that entry level pricing for a true, immersive telepresence room probably is around $250,000 -- and it takes two to connect. But while the buzz has been around telepresence, you probably don’t need it, said Danto, because there has been an explosion from just about every manufacturer of value priced video conferencing equipment. Awareness of this lower priced gear is growing as is business' adoption.
But, probably, you will wind up buying "telepresence" because, said Danto, most makers lately have been busy rebranding all their video conferencing gear as “telepresence” -- and, yes, that is certain to confuse buyers who already are puzzled by the range of options and price points in a fast changing marketplace.
And yet the paradox is that now is the time for video conferencing -- just at a lower price point. Fuel for this renewed enterprise enthusiasm comes from one massive trend: “there’s the mobile workforce. That really is making this necessary,” said Danto. When co-workers are dispersed geographically and always on the move, bringing them together is a big step towards team building.
The rest of the fuel comes from “a perfect storm,” said Mary Miller, director of Product Marketing at video conferencing company LifeSize. Miller ticked off three factors helping video conferencing spread:
- HD broadband;
- The prevalence of video in the consumer life - such as Skype and Facetime; and
- The prevalence of companies doing more with less. In other words, not being able to jump on a plane for a face to face meeting.
Add up the pluses and, definitely, video conferencing is ready for primetime in 2012. Much of what is needed -- particularly lower prices -- is in place and, better still, the latest generation mobile devices (such as iPad 3 and iPhone 4S) are slick enough to bring truly mobile workers into the picture.
"Bad video is worse than no video"
But then there are the worries associated with implementing lower end video in the workplace and this starts with this: “bad video is worse than no video,” said Jason Parry, practice director for communications and collaboration at solutions provider Force 3. “The quality of the video is very important to the end user. You want to be able to pick up on body language.”
A key problem area, said Parry, is that some sales executives simply underestimate how much bandwidth video conferencing will consume when they rough out their bids. “A lot of low end bids ignore the infrastructure a company needs for enterprise level video conferencing,” he said.
Note: it is not that video consumes that much bandwidth but it does consume it and business-grade solutions have to factor in upgrades if the buyer is going to get what he or she expects from video conferencing: imagery clear enough to tell a smile from a frown.
Once bandwidth is handled, what will video conferencing cost?
“I still recommend a hardware appliance on your desk,” said Danto, who indicated that entry level units cost around $5,000, with price tags escalating to $20,000 per unit for more sophisticated set ups. “Any number of companies are providing hardware and software. All companies have products up and down the price scale.”
Either way, said Danto, “Price is no longer a barrier to high quality video communications.” And that just may be the real reason why 2012 is shaping up as the year of video conferencing.
As a busy freelance writer for more than 30 years, Rob McGarvey has written over 1,500 articles for many of the nation's leading publications ranging from Upside to the Harvard Business Review and The New York Times. He has covered mobility since the birth of the cellular industry and PCs since the 1980s. He writes often about networking and security issues. Somewhere in there he also files a regular "Mobility Matters" on mobile banking for the Credit Union Times. While he does most of his writing on a Samsung Chromebook, he admits to Macbook Air envy and owns four tablet computers.