A New Look

Emerging trends remove complexity and expand the possibilities of video conferencing.

The business case for video conferencing has been convincingly established. With workforces becoming more mobile and dispersed, video conferencing bridges geographic boundaries to reduce travel costs, improve collaboration and promote stronger business relationships. Beyond face-to-face communications, best-in-class solutions provide multiple ways to engage users and share ideas. Users can share screens, remotely access each other’s desktops, exchange files and cooperatively work with digital whiteboards.

However, there has always been a bit of gap between the technology’s promise and its actual execution.

While business and IT leaders overwhelmingly agree about video’s collaborative value, enthusiasm has been dampened by persistent cost, complexity and technical barriers. In a 2017 market update, the Frost & Sullivan research firm claims the global enterprise video conferencing market currently has a penetration rate of less than 10 percent.

Degree of Difficulty

A common complaint is that video conferencing isn’t easy enough. On average, nearly a third of a 30-minute meeting is eaten up just getting the technology to work. Technical glitches and bandwidth constraints can lead to dropped connections, garbled audio and frozen video.

As a measure of the complexity, consider one firm’s suggestions for steps users should take when encountering problems with a conference call. It suggests adjusting bandwidth and resolution settings of the device and software. Users are also advised to check for software updates and install any that are available. If those measures don’t work, the firm says restarting the conference might help.

Clearly, those are time-consuming steps that will frustrate nontechnical business users who just want to confer with colleagues about onboarding a new customer or launching a new marketing campaign. Such issues create frustration that cause employees to either overwhelm IT with support calls or simply stop using the system altogether.

Another limiting factor is that the video conferencing market has long targeted large enterprise organizations with powerful and expensive room-based systems that require advance scheduling and the support of IT staff in order to conduct meetings. The chief issue with these monolithic, hardware-based systems is that they simply aren’t very agile. They don’t lend themselves to the type of rapid, impromptu conversations that often drive key business decisions.

Despite these challenges, several new developments are helping to lower the technical barriers and drive the power of video collaboration into all corners of the workforce. The following trends are expected to boost user satisfaction with video collaboration and make it easier for people to conduct informal and unscheduled meetings, often within the framework of their workflow.

Cloud-Based Platforms

Cloud-based video can come in the form of fully outsourced Video-Conferencing-as-a-Service (VCaaS) platforms, as well as all-in-one integration platforms. In either case, the cloud masks much of the typical complexity involved in running video conferencing.

VCaaS solutions allow users to access a feature-rich platform without investing in capital equipment or the technical resources to maintain and support that equipment. Most services allow users to quickly set up a virtual meeting room to which they can invite meeting participants.

Cloud-based integration platforms also create tight integration between video and unified communications and collaboration platforms. Such integration widens communication to mobile devices, room-based conferencing systems, chat clients and third-party video clients, and even allows audio-bridging for mobile and landlines.

WebRTC

Web Real-Time Communication is an open-source application programming interface (API) that enables real-time voice, video and data communications through a web browser. This dramatically simplifies cross-platform communications.

Platform interoperability has always been an issue with video conferencing. Participants are often on disparate systems that use of variety of video coding and decoding (codec) formats. Typically, these various media streams must be translated and converted to a common language through the use of a gateway. However, this is a resource-intensive process that can affect video and voice quality.

WebRTC eliminates all that because the browser contains all the underlying codecs as well as all the required encryption, bandwidth management and NAT/firewall traversal tools.

 

Software Codecs

Hardware codecs are dedicated chips that encode and decode a digital media stream. For a long time, it was really the only way to ensure a quality video session. However, these chips vary from vendor to vendor — there can even be variables between chipsets from the same vendor. That limits customization and creates platform compatibility issues.

Software codecs run on the CPU, but they were long considered to be too slow for heavy-duty video. However, dramatic improvements in graphics and CPU processing power over the past few years have altered the dynamic.  Software codecs now offer more flexibility and more customization at a better price point with no discernible performance penalty.

Social Collaboration

Solutions such as Slack, HipChat, and Glip mark a significant shift. These free or low-priced team collaboration products have attracted a significant customer base, making it likely that conferencing will increasingly be built into team collaboration solutions. Frost & Sullivan says this will diminish the distinction between video and web conferencing, with most web conferencing solutions integrating rich video conferencing while video-centric vendors enhance content sharing and collaboration. It is expected the two solutions will soon look almost identical in features and price.

These advances and more are transforming the way video will be used to enhance business. Conducting a video conferencing no longer has to be a rigid process that requires a complex setup to connect participants at a predetermined time. Improvements in software, processing power and interoperability are democratizing the technology and extending its reach to the entire workforce.