Feature Story

Five Obstacles to Growth in Videoconferencing

By TMCnet Special Guest
Allen Drennan, CTO, Nefsis
  |  February 01, 2011

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 2011 issue of Unified Communications Magazine

Why does an industry that delivers so much in the way of value through reduced travel expenses, increased productivity and greater communication efficiency have such a difficult time gaining wide spread usage? Even in the most innovative organizations, there are underlying issues that hinder the adoption of videoconferencing. These problems range from the highly technical to basic user perception. But in reality, the answer is quite simple: Anyone must be able to conference anywhere. 

Here are the top five reasons why anyone cannot conference anywhere.

Ease of Use– Traditional videoconferencing systems are not as easy to use as a telephone. If you happen to connect to the same locations with enough frequency that you add them to your directory, then it becomes a bit easier. However, connecting for the first time requires the IP address or SIP name of the remote location. In a majority of cases an IT professional is required to establish a connection.

Once a videoconference is established, the next issue is the sharing of data. With traditional videoconferencing, the sharing of data and other presentation materials is conducted through the H.239 protocol standard, which supports basic screen emulation from a device connected to the system. More sophisticated sharing and collaboration tools require additional peripherals and software, once again requiring the services of an IT professional.

Web conferencing solutions with video capabilities are easier to use and provide sophisticated sharing and collaboration tools. However, the added functionality does not make up for the lack of video quality and capability.

Access– Protection against hackers, viruses and spyware are a requirement for all organizations. Implementing the required, additional layer of security, while necessary, is a major reason why most videoconferences never occur. 

Traversing proxies and firewalls will be different for each organization. Most organizations will open ports to allow traffic through. But in most cases, the receiving location will need to know the identity of the sending location. This may not be a major problem for two locations that communicate on a frequent basis, but it’s a roadblock for first time callers.Traditional videoconferencing systems utilize the UDP (News - Alert) protocol for the transmission of videoconferencing content. It is common practice for IT departments that manage perimeter security to limit the use of protocols, such as UDP, as a security measure against network intruders. While there is nothing inherently wrong with UDP, the implementation of what is considered best practices for network security creates a roadblock for most UDP traffic.

Ubiquity– To experience a high quality videoconference, one would need access to a properly equipped room. In a large enterprise, this may mean a short walk down the hallway. But for the small to medium-sized business, access to a videoconferencing facility involves either a very costly rental fee or is completely impossible. 

Traditional videoconferencing systems typically require dedicated network bandwidth in the form of virtual private circuits. While the quality of service for this type of connection is typically very good, the cost is prohibitive for most small to medium-sized organizations, thus preventing widespread adoption. 

Desktop videoconferencing solutions utilize typical Internet connections. However, if there is a requirement to connect to a videoconferencing room or if HD is a requirement, most desktop solutions fall short. Furthermore, desktop video solutions do not adhere to any standards. As a consequence, all participants must use the same vendor to conference.  

Sacrificing security for ubiquity is unacceptable for a professional organization. Most desktop videoconferencing products provide simple one-way symmetric-key encryption based AES that doesn’t meet the demands of TLS transport layer security and full key exchange PKI. The main reason for this deficiency is two-fold. First of all, the overhead of proper key exchange encryption requires more processing time for the codecs and transports, which adds latency to the videoconference. Secondly, the vast amount of UDP and TCP ports used to transport voice (VoIP), video and data require different secure sessions for each port, making it impractical.

Video Quality– The average users will have an HD television in their home. When they engage in a videoconference, they expect like quality. While this may not be a reasonable expectation for the technically savvy, it is the reality of the situation. Latency, jitter and inferior picture quality are visual measurements that any consumer will use to judge the videoconferencing experience. 

Even with adequate bandwidth, expensive peripherals and an IT professional standing by, most videoconferences disappoint in the quality of the experience. Telepresence (News - Alert) systems provide a superior solution to traditional videoconferencing, but at a cost. Multipoint HD videoconferencing will soon become much more affordable to millions of businesses as chipset and motherboard manufacturers incorporate USB 3.0, enabling HD 1080p at standard frame rates, including 30 progressive and 60 progressive frames per second. This is a substantial enabling technology for videoconferencing, as it will usher in the highest quality, full motion HD at prevailing webcam pricing and consumer electronics economies of scale. What used to cost thousands or tens of thousands of dollars for boardroom videoconferencing will soon be available to any desktop or conference room at webcam prices.

Cost – Most of the problems with videoconferencing can be alleviated with enough money. For those organizations that can afford a telepresence system with full concierge services, all but the ubiquity problem is solved. But how many organizations can afford to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for a technology that, in a best case scenario, has historically experienced a low utilization rate? 

There are many inexpensive desktop solutions (some are even free). However, these cheap desktop solutions only solve the cost problem. Video quality is far below the level of a traditional videoconferencing system. And, as mentioned earlier, security is greatly compromised.

As with any new technology, there is always the adoption curve in business. For those organizations that are looking for a cost-effective solution without compromising quality, security, ubiquity and functionality, a cloud-based videoconferencing online service clears these obstacles and should be a consideration for anyone-anywhere videoconferencing.

Allen Drennan is CTO of Nefsis.

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Edited by Stefania Viscusi