Video Conferencing – FAQ
What is Video Conferencing?
Video Conferencing is any method of bi-directional communication where live video is part of the exchange. This can include communication in conference rooms, at desktops, laptops and mobile devices.
Is all Video Conferencing the same?
No. There are many ways to video conference. There are consumer apps like Google Hangouts and Apple Facetime. There are “middleware” services such as GoToMeeting and BlueJeans. And there are Enterprise Grade options like Polycom and Cisco Hardware and Infrastructure. Each one serves a purpose and when used as intended is an amazing way to communicate.
What is the difference between “Consumer”, “Middleware”, and “Enterprise Grade” Video Conferencing?
Consumer applications like Hangouts and Facetime are designed to operate in very low bandwidth environments with a high tolerance for failure. These meetings are typically very low resolution with poor audio quality, are unsecure, and can drop easily. The expectation is that the consumer is excited simply to use the technology and is willing to sacrifice call quality and occasionally need to reconnect in the middle of a meeting in exchange for the extremely low cost (free) of the application.
Middleware Services offer better quality and reliability and are typically sold on a “per user / per month” basis. They are appealing because they are easily integrated into an OPEX budget and require very little setup on the end users’ part. These services, however, rely heavily on other equipment that the end user will also need to supply. Whether the end user wants to use a desktop or laptop application, a mobile device, or a conference room system, that equipment will need to be purchased and deployed or installed outside of the middleware offering.
Enterprise Grade solutions are “end-to-end” solutions. With an Enterprise Solution, we start with a “Conferencing Endpoint.” This is hardware based on the number of users gathered in one physical location. For groups of 5-30, a Conference Room System is typically installed, which includes Cameras, Microphones and a variety of support hardware. The Conference Room System – also referred to as a “codec” or “video endpoint” – needs to be sized appropriately to the number of people in the room. Design considerations should also be made for lighting, room noise such as HVAC, room acoustics, screen sizes, etc. These are planned systems that require forethought and a trained design strategy. For groups of 2-6, a “Huddle System” can be used, which typically requires less equipment and carries a lower cost of deployment. For individual users, a desktop, laptop or mobile app can be installed, which will bear all of the benefits of the larger systems, but will be optimized for a “personal” experience.
Enterprise Grade solutions offer the highest level of security and can also provide call handling capabilities – known as “call bridging” – as well as a variety of additional features such as Call Recording, Live Meeting Broadcast, and Video On Demand.
Middleware and Enterprise Grade options are generally designed to work with each other. A BlueJeans session operates on a Polycom, can call a Cisco and can be joined by a GoToMeeting. All of these options communicate using “standards based” call protocols. Consumer applications are proprietary and cannot communicate with other platforms.
Which Kind of Video Conferencing do I need?
This depends on your business requirements:
“I just want to try it” – Google Hangouts or Apple FaceTime are a great option. Give that moped a test drive. It’s fun! You probably shouldn’t take it out on the highway, but it’s a really fun way to try the technology.
“We need a medium to large conference room with video conferencing capabilities.” – You will need to install Enterprise Grade hardware. This means a Television or Projector, a Video Conferencing Camera, Speakers, Microphones and a laptop connection for presentations. This should be designed and installed by a certified Audio-Visual Systems Integrator.
“We have many users who need to ‘personally’ join meetings and share content using their desktops, laptop and mobile devices.” – An Infrastructure Solution is needed. This can be a service offering like GoToMeeting or WebEx, or for an optimal collaboration environment, an Enterprise Solution should be employed. Recently, Microsoft has provided an Enterprise Infrastructure Solution named Lync or Skype for Business – these are different versions of essentially the same product – which solves the “personal” meeting requirement very well and creates a very efficient workflow by managing, email, phone, calendars, user access, video messaging, call bridging, and more all under one platform.
“We need a huddle space with video conferencing capabilities.” – There are several options for this space. A common mistake is to connect a webcam and TV to a laptop or desktop hosting “personal” connection. One of the most common challenges is that there will be inherent audio problems and the user interface will still be the laptop of desktop being used to manage that session. A better solution is to use one of a variety of “Huddle Room Systems” purpose built for the application. These carry a lower cost and can be easily deployed.
What is an Infrastructure Solution?
In its simplest form, Infrastructure is call management. In order to make a connection we have to dial another user or users. This call needs to be connected directly or added to a bridge. Our Audio, Video, and Content needs to be transported, checked for security, verified for quality, and shared with other participants. And this needs to happen in both directions.
But Infrastructure is much, much more:
Infrastructure is workflow.
A properly designed and implemented infrastructure provides users with the ability to schedule meetings, invite participants, and create calls with other users across all types of rooms, locations and devices. It gives us the ability to capture meetings and create training videos, company updates, and reference materials. It gives us the ability to scale, sharing our meetings and town halls with tens, hundreds or even thousands of users worldwide, all while maintaining pristine HD call quality, no dropouts, and the highest security standards available in the industry. Infrastructure gives our users the ability to easily and intuitively start meetings, share content, and collaborate to accomplish all of our business goals. It gives our customers an easy and highly personal way to reach us. It helps us optimize our time by centralizing all of our communications needs.
Infrastructure is standardization.
An Infrastructure Solution gives us the ability to manage all of our hardware and software from one place at one time. Firmware updates, software revisions, pilot programs, and all other management can be easily deployed and controlled.
Infrastructure is metrics.
We can track meeting timeliness, duration and participation. We can identify consumption habits and proactively size and scale our facilities based on those habits. We can help manage bandwidth, call quality and a variety of network flags to keep our environment running smoothly.
Infrastructure is peace of mind.
It can create a system of automated call routing to optimize assets. It can create automated fail-safe policies so that business continues even when a physical location has been shut down due to weather, power or whatever life may throw at us.
Are there other benefits to Video Conferencing?
Many white papers have been written about the extensive benefits of video conferencing but along with the features above, some key considerations are:
Reduction of Travel
Not only is there a monetary cost associated with travel in the form if airfare, lodging, & expenses, but there is also the opportunity cost of losing staff for days at a time, simple to take a 2 hour meeting in another location. While Video Conferencing cannot currently replace a handshake, for regular check-ins, consistent meetings and trainings, multi-site collaboration, short notice calls, client facing communication, and generally making a geographically diverse workspace more personal, Video Conferencing is the only answer. And it’s green. By reducing travel, we are reducing our carbon footprint.
Mobilizing your Workforce
In Infrastructure Solution gives your team the ability to work effectively from anywhere. Sales people can touch base from the field. Work-from-home staff can participate as though they were in the office. And remote workers can be part of your central environment. Your ability to expand your business is no longer limited geographically, because where ever you can place a person, you can bring that person right back into your business community.
A Quick Guide to Choosing the Right Video Conferencing System and Infrastructure Solution