Video Conferencing Becomes More Things to More People


It is a sign of great change that an Interop panel last week expressly dedicated to video conferencing spent far more time discussing telepresence and other sophisticated platforms than the rudimentary desktop systems many people associate with the sector.


Video Conferencing Overview -- Where Do I Start? was led at the New York City conference by Andrew Davis, the Managing Partner for Wainhouse Research. Davis said that as of January the compound annual growth rate (CAGR) for the video conferencing sector was 9 percent and that unit sales were up. The landscape, he says, offers "lots of excitement." Said Davis:

We term it hyper growth. There is lots of excitement among vendors, potential vendors and investors.

Video conferencing is being driven at two levels, Davis said. These conditions will positively impact both the short- and long-term fortunes of video conferencing. The "normal" layer involves the existence of dispersed teams that must communicate with each other; the continued pressure to cut costs; quality of life issues that are driving employees to resist traveling; the need to reduce the huge inefficiencies of corporate travel; the benefits of attention brought to the market by Microsoft, Cisco and IBM; and the emergence of high-definition presentation and telepresence platforms.


The more subtle drivers -- Davis kiddingly labels them as "abnormal" -- include the desire to help reduce global warming by cutting travel; the desires to avoid terrorism and exposure to diseases such as avian flu; and disgust with escalating fuel prices and reductions in airline services.


Given the name of the company for which he works, it is not surprising that Michael Helmbrecht, the director of product management for LifeSize Communications, believes that a telepresence platform must present people with full-size images of those sitting across the cyber table from them. Davis agrees that telepresence includes life-size images. He added that high-quality audio and video and proper positioning and perspective of the participants is key. He used a series of humorous slides to illustrate the difference between it and traditional video conferencing.


The increased use of video conferencing, the broadening of the definition to include telepresence and its use in unified communications and other even broader categories presents a long list of challenges to IT departments. Not only are sophisticated management tools vital to schedule and manage meetings, but appropriate network connectivity must be maintained. Greg Edwards, a Distinguished Communications Architect for Cisco, pointed out that not only must enough bandwidth must be available, but it also must be the "right kind" of bandwidth capable of meeting requirements beyond simply throughput demands.


Telepresence is to a large degree the future of video conferencing. The accompanying challenge is making sure the broadening and far more complex category doesn't lose focus or confuse customers.