Have you noticed? Almost every information and communications technology (ICT) device we use today at work, for personal reasons and increasingly for both has a front-facing camera. In fact, cameras on ICT devices (front-facing and back-facing on smartphones), and their presence in much of the installed base of devices worldwide has been a somewhat under-appreciated revolution. If you were distracted, it has transpired mostly in the past four years and it is certainly picking up steam.
Yes those embedded cameras have disintermediated a good chunk of the standalone camera business. However, along with helping enable the tablet/smartphone explosion, front-facing camera ubiquity has become the on-ramp to the era of everywhere, any time, high-definition (HD) and high-fidelity, everyone can participate according to what they are near or are carrying, video conferencing (VC). The global rush to 4G LTE (News - Alert) is fueling the fire. This is not about “see you, see me.” It is about “engage me, make me smarter and more productive.” It is about the socialization and democratization of IT.
While the benefits of quality room-based system VC experiences have been well known and documented for several years —lower travel costs, on-demand and instant access to subject matter experts no matter their location, integration with unified communications and collaboration tools to improve decision-making quality as well as speed, ability to do enterprise-wide broadcasting, etc. — high-quality video conferencing has been almost exclusively the preserve of large enterprises. The reasons small to medium business (SMB) adoption has been out of reach include:
System and service costs
Device processing power
Interoperability issues between a variety of video and voice codecs
Frame and bit rates, frame sizes and resolution issues
Scalability and extensibility
Ease-of-use, i.e., lack of internal IT people to support complicated installations, and the challenges of session moderation and collaboration tool integration
Israeli-based Surf Communications Solutions , leveraging its history in the DSP-based multimedia processing and transcoding businesses, is out to change all of that with their Orion-MCU™ (Multi-Point Control Unit) video conferencing platform. It is designed to specifically meet the needs not just of SMBs but also those of larger enterprises seeking to make video participation by the increasingly dispersed workforce, be they remote and/or mobile, easily accessible and with compelling user experiences.
Knocking down the barriers for SMBs
I got to kick the tires of the Orion-MCU at our recent ITEXPO (News - Alert) East event in Miami, Fla., where it won a best in show award. (Niv Kagan, senior vice president of marketing at Surf had a nice video chat with us that is worth a watch as well). And, in March, I moderated a webinar, HD Video Conferencing for the price of a Business Trip in the LTE Era, where Mr. Kagan and I were joined by Surf’s CTO Avi Fisher for a fascinating tour of the industry and a detailed explanation as to why quality video is now available and affordable for SMBs. A few thoughts from that session are worth sharing.
Surf started by highlighting the market research which validates video is fast moving from luxury to necessity for enterprises of all sizes. It became intriguing when talked turned to what long-term evolution (LTE) wireless brings to the table. It short, it makes inclusion of mobile devices a high-quality user experience. The implications it can have for SMBs in the evolving bring your own device (BYOD) world are enormous.
Two slides are worth pondering. The first shows resolutions and capabilities of devices commonly used in video conferencing.
What is striking is that most networks that have historically served SMB have not had the upstream capabilities needed for quality interactive video, even if they had the downstream ones. In fact, LTE was in the webinar title because along with SIP trunks and inexpensive high-bandwidth connectivity in the wired world, LTE is the perfect solution for including mobile devices in video conferencing since it has the upstream capabilities necessary to produce a great user experience. It is playing field leveler and game changer rolled into one.
The second slide was a good segue into a detailed presentation of the Orion-MCU. It shows the advantages of an open (the Orion-MCU) versus closed system approach.
CTO Fisher noted that, “In the next 3-5 years, video conferencing equipment will enjoy a drastic cost reduction, at a pace of at least 50% per year… This will make video communication affordable for any organization, large or small, wealthy or not.” He also noted that, “We feel a system or solution works well when every piece does what they are good at (similar to an organization). This is why we don’t believe you need to replace a solution, but rather integrate into an ecosystem.”
Indeed, it is this ability to play well with others that not only knocks down various barriers to the possible creation of islands of video that devalue the investment but also enable the solution to be an affordable addition. No vendor lock-in, and no need to rip out what already exists or even change-out the devices employees use. Surf also likes to tout that the Orion-MCU is available either as a standalone appliance that connects to any IP network providing plug and play conferencing solutions, or as a PCI (News - Alert)-e board, MCU-on-a-blade solution for equipment manufacturers that can be integrated into any device in order to provide plug-and-play HD voice and video conferencing.
Without stealing the thunder from your listening to the webinar, the long and short of it is that the cost curves for HD quality video conferencing have been bent. They will continue to be so and on a variety of hardware, software and services fronts. This makes it attractive for SMBs to be able to provide sophisticated, inclusive and immersive capabilities not just to members of their companies but to everyone they wish to touch.
Edited by Amanda Ciccatelli