For more than a decade, industry pundits predicted that video conferencing would become ubiquitous— in every conference room and shared collaboration space, on every desktop computer and across every mobile device. And they were right! The barriers to mass adoption have finally come down. How so?
"There’s no storm debris—just lots and lots of opportunity to connect with others"
1. First, inexpensive broadband service became available to any device almost anywhere in the world.
2. At the same time, video conferencing software has become efficient and resilient enough to run consistently and reliably over the public internet and mobile networks.
3. All the while, CPU technologies continued to advance until the average consumer smartphone, tablet or PC is more than capable of having a high definition video conference.
Consumers responded by flocking to video chat and video collaboration tools such as Skype, Google Hangouts and FaceTime. In our personal lives, especially for younger generations, video chat is the norm.
Calm before the storm
Despite the mass adoption on the consumer side, things remained stagnant on the enterprise side due to two significant hurdles. First, the costly on-premises infrastructure, MCU’s, media servers and management platforms required to run and manage legacy video conferencing solutions have constrained adoption due to spiraling capex and operating costs. And second, the proprietary hardware required to deliver traditional video conferencing to meeting rooms and collaboration spaces has prevented enterprises from outfitting more than a small percentage of meeting rooms with video.
Research affirms that today, less than 5 percent of meeting rooms are equipped with video conferencing systems, leaving enterprises of all sizes with the stark reality that their employees have significantly more advanced video collaboration tools in their personal mobile devices and homes than they have in the corporate conference room.
Cloudy with a chance of rain
Enter cloud-based video and web conferencing solutions. Cloud-based video solutions are offered from a widely diverse set of vendors, from industry behemoths such as Microsoft Skype and Cisco WebEx, to newer entrants like BlueJeans, Zoom, Vidyo and a host of others. These solutions remove the infrastructure, server and management cost by placing those components in the cloud. Using state-of-the-art switching technologies in place of legacy bridging allows these cloud-based solutions to scale to support thousands of users, priced at rates comparable to audio conferencing services. Some of these services even offer basic “freemium” plans as an onramp to their paid premium service. Suddenly, affordable, high-quality conferencing came raining down on businesses around the globe.
The skies clear, and a world of choice appears
At the same time, there is good news on the meeting room front. Since these cloud-based services only require a computer to be running their application software, it becomes quite simple and inexpensive to build room systems using off-the-shelf hardware and plug-and-play USB peripherals from vendors like Logitech and others. Enterprise IT organizations now have two very cost-effective options for delivering video to desktops as well as conference and huddle rooms.
1. The first option is referred to as BYOPC, short for Bring Your Own PC. In this approach, the conference room is equipped with a display, USB camera and USB speakerphone. The end user brings their PC to the room, plugs in an HDMI cable to the display, plugs in the USB camera and speakerphone and launches their video conferencing app.
2. The second approach adds a computer to the display, camera and speakerphone provided in the room. The computer can be a standard PC, laptop, mini computer or an appliance such as an Intel NUC. In this approach, the user does not need to bring their own PC to the meeting room, they simply use a supplied keyboard, mouse, and remote control or touch screen panel to launch their video call.
Either of these solutions can be delivered at a fraction of the cost of traditional video conferencing room systems. If you’re not familiar here’s a quick video that runs through each.
Cloud-based services and new methods of equipping conference rooms with video are not only inexpensive; they allow enterprise users to use a range of video applications to suit their unique needs. For example, an enterprise user might select a cloud-based UC application like Skype for Business for IM, telephony and internal meetings, but opt for a web conferencing app like WebEx for group presentations, and also use a completely different application such as BlueJeans for a video meeting with external vendors and customers. Eliminating the dependence on proprietary hardware and leveraging cloud-based services has an added benefit to the enterprise user: application independence and flexibility.
There’s no storm debris—just lots and lots of opportunity to connect with others. And while it may have taken more than a decade to get here, high-quality, enterprise-grade video conferencing and collaboration is now more affordable than ever before. So affordable it can and should be delivered to every desktop, meeting room, and shared collaboration space, and of course, mobile devices.