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March 2001


Video Communication For The New Millennium


In addition to e-mail, ICQ and other instant messaging services are now widely used in business communication. So looking ahead of the curve for Internet communication -- what's next? Next generation video communication solutions over the Internet will complement e-mail and instant messaging, while being used in applications far beyond the reach of today's ISDN videoconferencing systems.

In comparison to traditional videoconferencing, next generation video communication technologies mimic instant messaging in that they are simple, quick, and provide instant and ubiquitous access to communication, often through a Web browser. In addition, they provide an enhanced communication experience through face-to-face contact.

The design of these new technologies was inspired by the social dynamics of how we work. Traditional videoconferencing systems primarily assumed the need for virtual meetings in a country-to-country or city-to-city context. These next generation video communication systems, because of their flexibility, can further expand into desk-to-desk, floor-to-floor, and building-to-building virtual communication, just like e-mail or instant messaging.

Making Video As Ubiquitous As Office E-mail
Years ago, early adopters hesitantly tried e-mail by allocating one terminal per office for electronic messaging. Later, they found that for e-mail to be effective and make workers productive, each employee had to have access at their desks. And e-mail has now expanded beyond the desktop to laptops and wireless devices.

Similarly, for employees to embrace face-to-face video communication, the application must be moved to the desktop to empower each employee to use it as part of their daily communication. Next generation Internet video communication solutions will enable every employee to access it and use it as easily as they do their phone, e-mail, and instant messaging applications.

Because video communication goes beyond e-mail, text, or voice chat, it enables easier and more effective communication with customers, simple demonstration of products through video, and fosters heightened trust and increased customer faith. The end result is more satisfied customers who make repeat purchases and feel comfortable recommending your products or services. In conjunction with today's powerful CRM software solutions, live video help as an advanced customer support solution can benefit both B-to-B and B-to-C Web sites.

According to Cyber Dialogue, only 48 percent of small online businesses are satisfied with customer support offerings. This dissatisfaction directly results in fewer online purchases. Moreover, Cyber Dialogue's report found that "formats such as voice support over the Internet and online meetings or chat rooms appear to be associated with the greatest overall satisfaction on the part of small business employees." With interactive video, customers gain more trust in the company, while representatives can answer questions, provide guidance throughout the online sales cycle, and suggest additional or complementary products.

In addition to customer support and CRM applications, video communication will benefit the existing user base of online, PC, and console games where online communications and interactivity are already established consumer behaviors. The opportunities with the convergence of video streaming technologies and interactive gaming markets are expanding as a result of the rapid growth of last mile broadband infrastructure and mainstream consumer purchases of high-performance computers. In addition, video game consoles connected to the Internet empower living room game players to communicate using the same console while engaged in multi-player games.

To the game developer, the potential that exists with next generation video communication technologies directly translates into greater stickiness and loyalty for the label, as well as improved competitive positioning through engaging game applications with integrated face-to-face communication.

Evaluating Next-Gen Video Communication Solutions
When assessing next generation video communication solutions, there are four criteria that must be met in order to achieve enterprise-wide access: technical access, economic access, physical access, and cognitive access. If any of these criteria is missing, the services provided by the solution are inaccessible, and the success of the deployment is compromised.

Technical Access
Technical access criteria are of particular concern at the IT management level. There must be support for heterogeneous hardware, Internet connectivity, and devices. IT managers must ensure that the video communication solution can effectively deal with a wide range of processors and network connections, from corporate office LAN users, to home office dial-up users, to mobile wireless users.

In addition, attention must be paid to the reduction of network congestion at the backbone link level through IP multicast protocols. In order to economize on network bandwidth, IT managers should select video communication solutions that utilize IP multicast protocols that provide efficient video communication to a large numbers of users. In multi-party communication scenarios, multicast technologies are preferred over unicast technologies because they conserve network bandwidth through the transmission of individual packets of digital information to a group of recipients simultaneously, rather than sending a packet to each user individually.

Economic Access
The Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) is an economic access criterion that should be evaluated at both the IT management level and the executive management level.

Traditionally, enterprises had to make investments not only in acquiring a videoconferencing system, but they also had to pay premium prices for maintaining and operating such systems. The high operating costs were primarily due to requirements for specialized hardware and network infrastructure, such as private ISDN lines. Lowering the TCO can be achieved through IP-based solutions. IP-based video communication systems are gaining momentum in conjunction with the gradual upgrades by organizations of their network backbones.

However, many IP-based systems continue to maintain high network connectivity requirements (such as a T3 line), and therefore remain prohibitive to many organizations from an economic perspective. For IT managers looking to lower the operation costs of such systems, the next generation of video communication technologies will provide for a lower TCO as they will operate on networks with minimal connectivity requirements, keeping bandwidth costs to a minimum.

Because of the lower TCO associated with next generation solutions, video communication will also be accessible to smaller businesses with lower IT budgets and smaller numbers of users.

Physical Access
Just as using Hotmail or other Web-based e-mail systems make an e-mail account available from anywhere on the Internet, next generation of video communication technologies will be accessible from anywhere. Today, this means any desktop computer. But as Internet appliances, game consoles, PDAs, and palmtops become more connected, they too will be able to provide instant access to face-to-face communication.

Ubiquitous physical access translates into improved productivity and satisfaction of mobile workers and telecommuters, encourages more effective and quicker problem solving, and improves the outcome of tasks which involve an emotional component or a need for social interaction.

Cognitive Access
Cognitive access is of particular importance to the end user, as it largely has to do with how easy and effective it becomes to operate the system. Video communication solutions that are intuitive, simple to operate, and that can provide user-friendly interfaces will see higher adoption rates.

Many employees that should be using their company's enterprise videoconferencing systems don't, because the systems are intimidating. In employees' minds, the use of these systems is too much of a disturbance from their regular workflow because they have to reserve the special room, confirm attendance with all parties, leave their desk, and take time to set up the equipment. Because of this lack of cognitive access, these systems often end up going to waste. The next generation of video communication breaks this barrier, because people are able to access systems and use them as easily as they send e-mail from their desktop.

When looking further into new Internet video communication solutions, companies should look at a couple of factors that impact ease of use. One of them is the unique identifier that a user needs to know to locate and connect with other users within the system. Another one is the amount of control over system parameters such as video quality, audio fidelity, and picture size.

Systems that use large combinations of digits (such as Personal Identification Numbers, or PINs) as unique identifiers generally pose challenges to the end user, as these numbers are almost impossible to remember. A new trend for next generation video communication systems is to have users identified by a name, which can be directly managed by the end user. Similarly, just as many people wouldn't know their ICQ numbers, it is easier for them to remember their ICQ nickname or their AOL screen name.

Finally, the amount of end user control on parameters such video quality, audio fidelity, and picture size is important, since users tend to relate their ability to adjust the system and observe results of those adjustments with their self-efficacy in operating the system ("Marketing in Hypermedia Computer-Mediated Environments: Conceptual Foundations," by Hoffman and Novak). The higher the amount of end user control, the higher the user's confidence in their ability to effectively operate the system, which results in higher usage by the end user and greater return on investment for the company.

Next generation video communication systems have clearly begun to emulate and extend the functions of the systems they replace and/or complement, such as traditional videoconferencing and instant messaging.

The growth in next generation video communication is primarily attributable to ease of use at affordable prices. This class of Internet communication products will finally enable penetration of video communication into the mainstream, while witnessing the long-predicted revolution in the field of communication.

Ruxandra Aldea is the director of marketing for Eyeball Networks. Eyeball helps companies advance their online applications and Internet presence with its interactive video communication solutions for narrowband, broadband, and wireless networks. The core technology behind Eyeball's products is the Eyeball Media Delivery Technology, a dynamically adaptive media delivery technology, giving Internet users optimum video quality based on available network bandwidth and processor power. For more information about Eyeball Networks, please visit www.eyeball.com.

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