4G ignites expanded videoconferencing possibilities
Mobile tech brings videoconferencing to the masses
Wireless carriers are pointing to videoconferencing as a way to differentiate their offerings. The fact that anyone at any time can engage in a video chat is proof that their networks are robust.
But marketing buzz aside, this development is big news for businesses and organizations that are spending big bucks on enabling this capability in-house: They might not need to install and maintain dedicated rooms or equipment anymore. In some cases, a mobile device and a fast connection might be all they need to stay connected.
That’s not to say that IT departments arent making the investments anyway. According to a March Forrester Research report, "The State Of Collaboration Software Implementations: 2011," 29 percent of businesses are “upgrading or building videoconferencing suites” this year as part of a broader trend to improve real-time communications. These additions will bring the number of videoconferencing-enabled enterprises to 62 percent in the next couple of years, according to the report. The bottom line is that executives place a lot of confidence and importance on video as a method of communication.
The main reason is that video conferencing can provide financial and business benefits such as reduced travel costs, deeper engagement between those communicating, better project management and improved user satisfaction. “Video fixes people’s attention. When you’re on the phone, your attention might move around; you can multitask,” said Claude Baudoin, a senior consultant at Arlington, Mass.-based IT consulting firm Cutter Consortium. “You can’t do that with a video conference, where you’re making eye contact with the other person.”
How we’ve arrived
A lot has transpired to make mobile videoconferencing a reality, said Catherine Clary, director of federal sales at Verizon Wireless. “The key to making videoconferencing work is 4G,” she said. “You need low latency and fast network speeds.” Indeed, all wireless carriers have transitioned or are in the process of transitioning to network standards that significantly improve on the speed of 3G, with some touting speeds as fast as 10 times the rate of the previous technology. Device manufacturers have followed suit, adding features such as dual cameras that enable videoconferencing.
Now that the carriers and equipment vendors have built the underpinnings, IT managers need to do their own work before giving the go-ahead for mobile video conferencing, Baudoin said. For one, not every employee should be able to video conference on the fly, he said. “Videoconferencing in public places can create very real, very big privacy issues. If I am an IT manager I would be very concerned about someone who is in possession of confidential or sensitive information, or someone who might be conferencing with someone who might discuss or disclose the same. You don’t want someone to be sitting in an airport talking about something that should never leave the office.”
There are also limitations to consider on the device side. Cameras typically don’t have stands, so video quality is at the mercy of how still people can keep their hands during a discussion. “You don’t want to make someone seasick on the other side because you’re moving around while talking to them,” Baudoin said.
Finally, there are data and network security concerns. Although the networks have encryption technologies built in, what happens if someone is connecting via Wi-Fi? That video is essentially unprotected unless controls are put in place ahead of time, Clary said. This may be why so many are making the videoconferencing investment in-house, she said. “What the IT managers are doing is taking a careful look at what the capabilities they want to enable so they can make sure it’s being done securely and that nothing that is sensitive will leave their organization,” she said. “It’s not as simple as saying everyone has capabilities, so let’s make it happen. There is no one-size-fits-all solution.”