in October 2004
By Chris Böttger
videoconferencing, conference rooms become collaborative
On the rise, and quite possibly in your next design
all the rage. It’s being covered by all of the trade
rags. It’s the way AV will be done for many years
to come. It’s the convergence of conferencing technologies,
and it’s headed to an AV installation near you. Over
the past year, there has been what appears to be a collective
demand by entities of all sizes for a more collaboration-friendly
AV environment. This demand is not limited to large corporations.
More and more, small businesses, schools, worship centers
and even private citizens are requesting collaborative capabilities
in conjunction with their customized AV builds.
The TCI Group (www.tcioptics.com),
a New York City-based supplier of custom optical components,
is a small company that has joined the convergence bandwagon.
Recently the company was searching for an AV solution that
incorporates collaboration technology in order to reduce
travel to the company’s manufacturing plant in the
Czech Republic. When TCI contracted a local AV and conferencing
integrator for the implementation of a modest videoconferencing
addition, within two weeks the New York group was having
face-to-face meetings with the Czech-based team. The installation
was a complete success and TCI recovered its investment
in the system within a few months of usage. President G.
Rausnitz was so pleased with the installation that he purchased
a videoconferencing system for his own Long Island NY home
so he could participate in the meetings without having to
drive into his office at 2:00am (8:00am Czech time). The
company has seen a significant increase in usage and a substantial
reduction in travel to the European office. As the company
grows, they expect this increase in usage to continue.
The appeal of conferencing
capability is not new. Collaboration technologies such as
the web and videocon-ferencing have been around for some
time, videoconferencing for more than a decade. It’s
a fact that face-to-face meetings are vital to the success
of many business relationships and work-related projects.
However, collaborating in today’s fast-paced, ever-connected
world demands that we be in 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
Videoconferencing, for its
part, has redefined the “face-to-face” meeting.
Over the course of three years, Wainhouse Research (www.wainhouse
.com), an independent market research firm covering the
rich media conferencing and communications fields, conducted
a detailed study into the incorporation of collaborative
technologies into the work environment. The data reveals
that people are increasing their reliance on these technologies
and this demand is spilling over into the AV integration
industry. Those companies that provide AV system-integration
services, with experience in conferencing technologies,
stand to benefit most.
Changes Spurring Growth
Several trends have spurred
the recent growth in conferencing:
• More Reliable:
Most companies using videoconferencing conduct their meetings
over ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network) lines. 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 (Internet Protocol) Networks, and enjoyed relatively
For the last few years, however,
there has been a significant migration to these IP networks,
a medium that is much more robust and recently has become
more affordable. Used almost exclusively by larger organizations
to date, video over IP rapidly is 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. One
of those, IVCi (www.ivci.com), touts a 99.99% guaranteed
network uptime behind flagship service IntelliNet, which
is used by some of the nation’s largest companies.
Increased: Video call quality is improving constantly,
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 were 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 previously. Because less bandwidth
is needed to conduct better quality video calls, IT departments
are more interested than ever because they can now devote
less departmental resources and reduce the recurring operating
costs associated with implementing videoconferencing.
• Varying Uses:
Companies of all sizes are employing a combination of conferencing
technologies because each serves a different purpose. For
instance, companies use videocon-ferencing to supplement
face-to-face meetings, where the tangible elements of human
presence, body language and eye contact are all active components
of the meeting. This differs somewhat from web conferenc-ing,
which companies are using almost exclusively to collaborate
and share documents. In other words, video and audio conferencing
are being used to make faster, smarter decisions, whereas
web conferencing is being used to get work done rapidly
in a collaborative environment.
• More Affordable:
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 best
be described as a communications phenomenon; akin to the
boom of the home computer in the 1980s. It wasn’t
that long ago that revolutionary technologies such as videoconfer-encing
were available only to large companies with equally large
budgets. This has changed with the “consumeration”
of conferencing technologies.
|A New York middle school benefits
from the potential of videoconferencing.
Costs Have Changed
Two years ago, you could have
expected to spend $30,000 on two videoconferencing setups
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 for smaller companies. Today, entry-level products
start at as little as $400 and maintenance-free, unlimited-use
services packages start at $500 per month. A 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 setup, network integration and
maintenance. Today, the same package can be purchased for
as little as $4000. Last year, a study by Wainhouse Research
showed that companies could expect to break even 12 months
after implementing a videoconferencing system, factoring
in cost savings associated with business travel, lodging
and dining. Today, companies can break even easily only
two to three months after implementation.
Videoconferencing is the new
“face-to-face” meeting. Wainhouse Re-search’s
recent study, along with every other study that has been
conducted recently on videoconferencing, shows that people
are now able to effectively receive all of the key elements
present with in-person face-to-face meetings (body language,
eye contact, hand movements, subtle gestures). The technology
has improved so drastically that it’s literally like
being in the room with the person with whom you are meeting.
For example, Polycom, manufacturer of video-conferencing
products in the world, recently released the VSX 7000, which
touts television-like video quality and integrated speakers
that deliver sound crisp enough to make you forget that
your meeting participants are actually not in the same room.
It’s a different world
out there. All accounts suggest that people around the world
feel less safe because of terrorism, disease, loss of productivity
and the expense of traveling, and 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.
Related to concerns about
terrorism, the continuing violence in the Middle East, escalating
outbreaks of violence in Africa and Europe and the creation
of a national terror alert, there is more resistance to
fly than ever. Communication in today’s business world
is different; it’s riskier and costlier.
If it’s safer, more
affordable and efficient to meet face-to-face over video
than it is in person oversees, companies will choose videoconferencing
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 because it is estimated that companies can reduce their
travel expenditures by more than 50% annually by introducing
videoconferencing to their overall communications program.
In many cases, the savings equates to hundreds of thousands
In the second quarter of 2004,
Wainhouse Research conducted a comprehensive study regarding
the applications and usage of conferencing technologies
and how they are impacting the way we communicate. The accompanying
boxes offer some key findings of the study.
the last year, have your business travel habits changed?
|Travel habits changed?
|Take fewer trips?
|Schedule more time/travel?
|Interested in alternatives?
War, terrorism and the increased inconvenience of
travel have driven an increasing number of business
travelers to change their travel habits. As a result,
more travelers have taken fewer trips and a significant
number are interested in alternatives. 61% of the
respondents stated that their travel habits have changed
in the last year, which is a 17% increase from 2002.
63% are taking fewer trips, a 19% increase from 2002.
79% are interested in travel alternatives, a 7% increase
some of your in-person meetings were converted to
web or videoconferencing, would you:
|Work from home
|Interested in alternatives?
|Work fewer hours
|Be more productive/competitive
|Save time and money
Not all the same questions were asked between the
2002 and 2004 surveys. N/A indicates new questions
asked in 2004. When presented with travel alternatives
using conferencing, an impressive 93% stated they
would save time and money, 89% would be more productive,
78% would be able to make faster decisions, 82% would
travel less. On a personal level, 62% would benefit
through increased time with family and 66% believed
that conferencing would improve their relationships
% of your meetings did you have in the last year…
|Combination: All of the above
|Comments 58% of today’s
meetings are held via collaboration and conferencing
technologies compared to 55% two years ago. A new question
for 2004 queries the use of multiple technologies. The
responses indicate that an increasing number of users
are shifting away from pure audio conferences to conferences
that include rich-media elements: audio, web and video.
are the factors that drive video meetings?
|No time for travel
|No money for travel
This is a new question for 2004, specifically inquiring
the drivers for the use of videoconferencing. The top
benefits in using video include saving wasted time associated
with travel, the ability to pick up the visual cues
associated with body language, the constraint of internal
funds for travel and meetings that often can be shorter
than those in-person.
Chris Böttger, vice president
& general manager, IntelliNet MCS for IVCi, LLC, Hauppauge
NY, has been a regular speaker at industry events such as
InfoComm and the Polycom User Group Annual Conference, and
has worked for Polycom, PictureTel and British Telecom.
He is heavily involved with IP networks and the future of