Making Videoconferencing More Widespread:New User-Friendly Devices, Mobile Support, Flexible Solutions Push It Toward the Tipping Point

By Paula Bernier, Executive Editor, IP Communications Magazines  |  October 01, 2010
This article originally appeared in the October 2010 issue of Unified Communications magazine

Video traditionally has been a medium used at opposite ends of the consumer and business spectrums. From the consumer perspective, it has long offered a mass market experience for the TV viewing audience. But from the business perspective, it’s primarily been available for big guns at big companies that have the clout to invest in expensive video-enabled conference rooms.

In recent years, of course, the Internet and broadband have helped enable the expansion of video to computers, laptops and, increasingly, wireless devices like smartphones and tablets. Meanwhile, corporate video firms have begun to introduce new business phones and other devices that bring video to the corporate desktop.

Still, leveraging video for work applications is far from widespread, and that seems to be because the barriers of entry for making video work easily as needed – and where desired – are still a bit high for many organizations and employees to overcome. But various companies are working to address that – from a variety of angles.

Lawrence Byrd, director of unified communications architecture at Avaya, says video in the workplace is on the cusp of taking off, but the fact that it is still difficult to use and manage so far has limited its application to select applications. To help propel video in the workplace into the mainstream, Avaya has come out with SIP support for its Windows-based client software and a range of new video products, including the Avaya 1000 family of dedicated video solutions for conference rooms and small groups, and an exciting new desktop solution. All of the above fall under Avaya’s existing SIP-based Aura architecture.

Initiating video communications, and managing various communications in a simple and intuitive way, can be a challenge, Byrd says, adding that today most workers rely on different tools for IM, video, social networking and other applications.

“It’s too hard to use the whole mish mash of tools we use today so … some people don’t use them,” Byrd says. “That’s not how collaboration should work. I should just wave my arms, and it should work.”

To make that happen Avaya has introduced a new drag-and-drop interface that merges Outlook, Facebook, IM, presence, video and other collaboration tools. Also new from Avaya as of last month is an Android (News - Alert)-based desktop video device with an 11.6-inch screen; Harman Kardon speakers; a touch-screen interface; an HP camera; and VoIP, video and other collaborative capabilities. It’s portable and supports Wi-Fi, so easily can be transported from a user’s desk to a conference room or another office, for example, Byrd says.

The device is part of what the company calls the Avaya User Experience, which Byrd says Avaya is promoting as a new way to think about video. It’s targeted at “power collaborators” within organizations, such as executives, team leaders, deal leaders, lawyers and any other knowledge workers who regularly interact with a variety of people. Byrd would not disclose the price of the device, but says it’s more than a tablet and less than a typical personal video desktop product.

Byrd says this is just the first of what will be a variety of video products that will deliver the Avaya User Experience to the workplace. Over time Avaya expects third-party devices to emerge to support the Avaya User Experience as well, says Byrd, adding that 4G cellular networks will increase bandwidth to better support rich media applications like mobile video.

Vidyo (News - Alert) is another supplier that’s delivering solutions to make video more user-friendly.

Unified Communications Magazine interviewed Marty Hollander, senior vice president of marketing for video at Vidyo, for this piece. But a recent Bloomberg (News - Alert) article nicely summarizes the company’s value proposition as delivering software that “can run on almost any device that connects to the Net – and adjusts whether that's a high-speed link in the boardroom or a cell connection from the 18th hole.”

Actually, Vidyo offers more than just software. The company sells software development kits on an OEM basis to companies such as Google, HP and ShoreTel (News - Alert); outfits conferencing service providers video solutions; and provides gear for end user organizations. That includes hardware/software video solutions for conference rooms, desktop video software that’s downloadable to a PC or Mac, and – perhaps most important – a 1U server/appliance that serves as a video router/portal/gateway.

Hollander says that while competing corporate video vendors sell MCUs that “do something terrible called transcoding,” Vidyo employs its patented technology to accept encoded signals into its video router and send those to Vidyo endpoints without altering the video. This is a better way to do things, he explains, because it doesn’t involve transcoders, which introduce significant latency and, thus, degradation, to the video.

That’s important both for the room- and desktop-based video users of today, and for the mobile wireless video applications of tomorrow, he adds. While Hollander wouldn’t delve into Vidyo’s product plans around delivering video over wireless networks, there is a demonstration of multipoint videoconferencing involving the iPad on the Vidyo website. Vidyo also has publicly demonstrated its technology being used with an Android phone. Holland says he expects to see videoconferencing applications on mobile devices no later than 2011.

BurstPoint Networks (News - Alert) is yet another company that is preparing for the rise of mobile videoconferencing. (For more on this new company, see page xx.)

As part of its recently announced corporate video gear solution the company disclosed that it has cut a deal with a CDN provider that will enable its customers to have virtual delivery nodes on their video networks. This will let customers to pay for video capabilities and to distribute their content to mobile or other devices on an as-needed basis. This kind of flexibility will become more important as more endpoints join the wireless videoconferencing revolution, Hollander says, because the more endpoints you have the more difficult it is to gauge demand and network requirements for video applications.

Edited by Jaclyn Allard