By Allen Drennan
On April 26, 2011
The benefits of videoconferencing are well understood, and it seems that during every disaster (volcano in Iceland, for example) the media re-articulates the advantages in grand fashion. One might logically conclude that the videoconferencing industry is about to experience hyper growth, but once the media tires of the latest “disaster story,” videoconferencing returns to its ho-hum, on-the-back-burner status.
|In an industry known as one of the leaders in videoconferencing adoption and deployment, average utilization is little more than six percent a month.|
Why does an industry that delivers so much value through reduced travel, reduced employee burnout, greater communication efficiency, and more have such a difficult time gaining widespread usage? Perhaps because in companies that have videoconferencing systems in place, usage remains low. A recent study conducted by Wainhouse Research found that the average usage of videoconferencing systems in five pharmaceutical companies, totaling 924 systems, was 10.1 hours per month for each system. In an industry known as one of the leaders in videoconferencing adoption and deployment, average utilization is little more than six percent a month.
As an AV technology manager, you have likely experienced various problems that hinder the adoption of videoconferencing, from the highly technical to basic user perception. But in reality, the biggest obstacle to widespread usage is the failure to enable anyone to conference anywhere.
Here are the top five reasons why anyone cannot conference anywhere:1. Ease of use:
Traditional, on-premise videoconferencing systems are not as easy to use as a telephone. If you happen to connect to the same locations with enough frequency that you add them to your directory, then it becomes a bit easier. However, connecting for the first time requires the IP address or SIP name of the remote location. In a majority of cases, an AV or IT professional is required to establish a connection.
Once a videoconference is established, the next issue is the sharing of data. With traditional videoconferencing, the sharing of data and other presentation materials is conducted through the H.239 protocol standard, which supports basic screen emulation from a device connected to the system. More sophisticated sharing and collaboration tools require additional peripherals and software, once again requiring the services of an IT professional.
Web conferencing solutions with video capabilities are easier to use and provide sophisticated sharing and collaboration tools. However, the added functionality does not make up for the lack of video quality.
2. Access: Protection against hackers, viruses and spyware is a requirement for all organizations. Implementing the required additional layer of security, while necessary, is a major reason that most videoconferences never occur.
Traversing proxies and firewalls is different for each organization, but most organizations open ports to allow traffic through. In most cases, however, the receiving location needs to know the identity of the sending location. While this may not be a major problem for two locations that communicate on a frequent basis, it is a significant roadblock for first time callers. In addition, traditional videoconferencing systems utilize the UDP protocol for the transmission of videoconferencing content. But it is common practice for IT departments that manage perimeter security to limit the use of protocols, such as UDP, as a security measure against network intruders. While there is nothing inherently wrong with UDP, this “best practice” for network security creates another roadblock for videoconferencing.
|Currently, desktop video solutions do not adhere to any standards. As a consequence, all participants must use the same vendor in order to conference.|
To experience a high-quality videoconference, one typically needs access to a properly equipped room. In a large enterprise, this may be a short walk down the hallway, but for the small to medium sized business, access to a videoconferencing facility involves a very costly rental fee, or it may be completely impossible.
Traditional videoconferencing systems require dedicated network bandwidth in the form of virtual private circuits. While the quality of service for this type of connection is usually very good, the cost is prohibitive for most small to medium sized organizations, thus preventing widespread adoption.
Desktop videoconferencing solutions utilize typical Internet connections. However, if there is a requirement to connect to a videoconferencing room or if HD is a requirement, most desktop solutions fall short. Furthermore, desktop video solutions do not adhere to any standards. As a consequence, all participants must use the same vendor in order to conference.
Sacrificing security for ubiquity is unacceptable for a professional organization. Most desktop videoconferencing products provide simple, one-way, symmetric-key encryption-based AES that doesn’t meet the demands of TLS transport layer security and full key exchange PKI. The main reason for this deficiency is two-fold. First, the overhead of proper key exchange encryption requires more processing time for the codecs and transports, which adds latency to the videoconference. Second, the vast amount of UDP and TCP ports used to transport voice (VoIP), video and data require different secure sessions for each port, making it impractical.4. Video Quality:
Average users today have an HD television at home. When they engage in a videoconference, they expect similar quality. While this may not be a reasonable expectation for the technically savvy, it is the reality of the situation. Latency, jitter and inferior picture quality are visual measurements that any consumer will use to judge the videoconferencing experience. Even with adequate bandwidth, expensive peripherals and an IT professional standing by, most videoconferences disappoint in the quality of the experience. Telepresence systems provide a superior solution to traditional videoconferencing, but at a significant cost. 5. Cost:
Most issues with videoconferencing can be resolved with enough money. A very expensive telepresence system with full concierge services solves every problem except ubiquity. But how many organizations can justify spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for a technology that even in a best-case scenario has historically experienced a low utilization rate?
There are many inexpensive desktop solutions (some are even free). However, these cheap desktop solutions solve only the cost problem. Video quality is far below the level of a traditional videoconferencing system. And as mentioned earlier, security is greatly compromised.
The growing ubiquity of videoconferencing, and new cloud based services that have the ability to negotiate firewalls while simplifying the user experience have created more options and opportunities for AV techs, integrators and their customers’ IT departments.
Videoconferencing clouds offer HD videoconferencing to desktops and rooms, with a full suite of advanced collaboration features and compatibility with most all PTZ/HD cameras and audio systems. Additionally, videoconferencing cloud services provide all of the functionality of traditional hardware (codecs, MCUs, gateways, routers, etc…) with the advantage of lower network infrastructure cost of ownership. Allen Drennan is Chief Technology Officer of Nefsis Corporation. Email your questions or comments to AVTIntern@nbmedia.com.
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