Is AVoIP at a Tipping Point? One Man's Opinion

AVoIP Tipping Point
(Image credit: Future)

During a meeting no one cares how content gets transported to the display. They want it to be easy, they want it to be reliable, they want it to be accurate, and they assume its secure. An HDMI cable between the computer and the display is all these things. When there are multiple sources to be routed to multiple displays matrix switchers achieve the objectives. If an acceptable solution exists, why change it?

A tipping point is a critical point beyond which a significant and often unstoppable change takes place. In his book, Diffusion of Innovations (1962), Everett Rogers put forth the idea that innovation is adopted in five stages, innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards. It has come to be accepted that the tipping point of a new technology occurs around the transition between the early adopters and early majority stages.

Innovators are motivated by the technology itself; they have a high tolerance for risk and failure and act as champions to interest early adopters. Early adopters often have a set of problems which can be solved by the new technology, they are willing to endure the challenges involved in implementing unproven technology to overcome those problems. In doing this, the early adopters establish the utility (the benefits) of the technology which can be used by the majority. Innovators and early adopters are a small fraction of the addressable market, for the innovation to remain viable it must be adopted by the majority.

The early majority values the utility set forth by the early adopters, but they are not willing to accept the same level of cost, effort, or risk to achieve the benefit that as early adopters. For the early majority to adopt a technology the benefit must outweigh the cost, triggering the tipping point. This means that the innovation must provide more benefit and/or less cost than the incumbent technology to succeed.


What will it take for AVoIP to reach the tipping point, or has it already tipped? Despite the marketing hype, I believe that AVoIP is still in the early adopter stage, prior to the tipping point. To drive adoption by the majority we need to consider the five main factors outlined in Diffusion of Innovation theory that influence adoption of an innovation.

Relative Advantage – The degree to which an innovation is seen as better than the idea, program, or product it replaces.

Compatibility – How consistent the innovation is with the values, experiences, and needs of the potential adopters.

Complexity – How difficult the innovation is to understand and/or use.

Triability – The extent to which the innovation can be tested or experimented with before a commitment to adopt is made.

Observability –The extent to which the innovation provides tangible results.

It would be difficult to argue that AVoIP achieves a better cost/benefit ratio than incumbent AV distribution if the criteria being used is the quality of a meeting or the acquisition cost, but the value proposition communicated for AVoIP is still primarily around ease of installation and functional parity. The attempts to portray AVoIP as aligned with IT practices are generally superficial and based on common hardware types and reused protocols, rather than established workflows and best practices. If they were truly aligned, we would not see the high percentage of AVoIP installations that are run on separate infrastructure that we still see today.

The true opportunities for AVoIP to create increased benefit and reduce cost is in addressing the inefficiencies in the operations and maintenance (O&M) of large-scale AV installations. If you compare the quality and substance of configuration and operations management of AVoIP products against the methods that the IT industry has pioneered over the last decades to solve these issues, the AVoIP systems look much more like the legacy AV systems they are trying to replace, rather than the IT systems they claim to emulate. The typical AVoIP “management” product is really a switching control interface designed to reduce the complexity involved in operating multiple devices as a single application, bringing the functionality back to parity with the simplicity of controlling a central AV switcher. This is important, but it does not meet the expectations of the IT organization for a management package.

I believe that the promise of AVoIP as the lead technology in our industry is a good thing, but there is still work to do to achieve it. On the other hand, tipping points are disruptive. They require new skills and new ways of thinking and doing business. Some people and companies will be left behind in the name of progress. Be careful what you wish for.

Join Us! Thursday, August 25 at 2:00p ET for a Webcast Discussion, AVoIP: The Tipping Point

This panel is a unifier for AV and IT managers. Whether AVoIP or AVoIT, “on the network” is gaining momentum. Every company has a full suite of networked AV/IT solutions, but for some AV/IT managers there is still a disconnect. This panel address barriers to entry such as existing infrastructure, major AV equipment that hasn’t reached the end of its lifecycle, and how to overcome interdepartmental resistance and help plan for the future. Register Today!

Paul Zielie
Consulting Solutions Architect at AVCoIP LLC

Paul Zielie, CTS-D,I is a multi-disciplined generalist with 30 years of experience designing and integrating IT, telecommunications, and audiovisual (AV) solutions.

Over the course of his career, he has had most of the roles in the AV/IT spectrum including customer/end user, IT owner, integrator, designer, managed service provider, distributor, pre-sale specifier, executive, and manufacturer. Because of this extensive real-world experience in every facet of the AV/IT lifecycle, he brings an almost unique perspective on the consequences, both intended and unintended of how product and project features are implemented.

“What I really do for a living is solve problems, little or big, with appropriate technical solutions. I believe that technology is in service to organizational goals and workflow, and not an end in itself, and use that as a guiding principle in my design efforts.”

He is a prolific writer and speaker and was the recipient of the 2015 InfoComm International, Educator of the year and was inducted into the SCN Hall of Fame in 2020. As a consulting solutions architect for AVCoIP LLC, Zielie specializes in working with AV manufacturers to create products that meet enterprise customers' IT requirements.