The Future of Video Conferencing
The following commentary is provided by
Nefsis regarding the general outlook for business video
The Stage is Set
Business communication has come a long way since the advent of the PBX
phone system and hand-written messages. The lightening speed of conducting
business today requires immediate answers to problems, issues, concerns and
more efficient communications overall. One missed call could mean the difference
between locking in a new account or losing the deal to your competitor. Cost
reduction has driven globalization, telework, outsourcing, and decentralized company
structures that demand better communications infrastructure. Luckily, technology
advancements have risen to the occasion. HD multipoint boardroom video conferencing,
once the domain of Fortune 100 boardroom, recently became available to consumers and
desktop computer users worldwide. And in the near future, video conferencing
will take its rightful place next to phone, FAX and email as an essential
Before looking at the future, let's take a quick look at the past. Boardroom video
conferencing systems have been around for decades. These were primarily hardware devices,
connected in pairs, over multiple leased telephone lines. They evolved and later used
standard network connections, though still in matched pairs over "fixed routes"
or in groups using highly specialized video switching equipment. The task of digitizing
video was so computationally intense, that these devices used dedicated processors for
video encoding, decoding, and transmission.
Moore's Law Catches Up to Video Conferencing Hardware
That was the past. Today, Moore's Law recently caught up with the
video conferencing industry. A desktop computer with an Intel
Pentium processor is far more powerful than the video encoders and
decoders (codecs) of the 1980s and 1990s. Today's PC is not only
more powerful, but virtually all business computers ship
with dual-core, quad-core and eight-core+ processors and multimedia
processor extensions. This dramatically increases the ability of
everyday computers to process multiparty video, digital audio
(VoIP), and live sharing data.
It has been more than 40 years since Intel co-founder Gordon
Moore made his now-famous observation. In the April 19, 1965 issue
of Electronics magazine, Moore stated that innovations in technology would
allow a doubling of the number of transistors in a given space every year
and that the speed of those transistors would increase. About 10 years
later, Moore adjusted the rate to every two years to account for the
growing complexity of chips.
Moore's Law had some profound implications at the time, predicting
that computing technology would increase in value at the same time
it would actually decrease in cost. In 1965, this was simply a prediction,
but after 40 years of technology advancement, both in PC hardware design
and TCP/IP networks, not to mention the multitude of standards that are
responsible for most of the software and web services available today,
we can now say without any hesitation that Moore's Law has stood the
test of time.
There is no better example of Moore's Law
than in video conferencing. Today, even a mobile device such
as a cell phone or tablet can process and display video; and most desktops
can easily process multipoint HD, VoIP audio, and live sharing data.
Indeed, a good parallel
processing application such as Nefsis brings multiple cores and
processor extensions to bear, far more compute power than hardware-based
codecs of the prior two decades — and at incrementally zero cost,
as most users already have a desktop or conference room computer.
Economies of Scale Lower Peripheral Prices
Another dynamic closely related to Moore's Law is the logarithmic,
or near-logarithmic, decline in the per-unit cost of manufacturing, also
known as the manufacturing learning curve and economies of scale. This
is especially pronounced as once-specialized equipment becomes a
high volume, PC peripheral or consumer-electronics device. Today, cameras
are widely available as
plug-and-play video conferencing equipment.
Organizations throughout the world are turning in droves —
as of March, 2005, LogiTech shipped 25 million webcams — to services
and software that provide all of the functionality of a boardroom system, and
more, at a fraction of the cost. What could only be done with a complex,
expensive boardroom-quality video conferencing system years ago, can now be
done with a standard multicore processor desktop, a high-speed Internet
connection and conferencing software or
cloud-based video conferencing service
that can easily be deployed and managed with little or no capital expenditure.
More importantly, this application area, once restricted to sharing two video
feeds, has now grown through software advances and increasing processing power,
to include HD multipoint video, advanced collaboration features,
and cloud-based deliveryas an integral part of the "conferencing"
experience. This so-called convergence can provide business, education and
government with a multi-purpose application that provides value to nearly
every department – from upper management, to human resources, payroll,
sales, training and IT/IS.
Business Benefits Hard to Ignore
The efficiencies of web and video conferencing are becoming
increasingly hard to ignore. The reduction of business travel and associated
costs, the ability to meet and interact in real-time with customers, business
partners and employees located in other states or countries are just a few of
the business and financial benefits. In terms of reducing capital expenditures,
some organizations can cut their travel budgets in half, or perhaps more by
depending on web and video conferencing to meet, train and provide sales
presentations in lieu of in-person visits. The software can pay for itself
in a short period of time and be a communications necessity,
like the phone and email, rather than a boardroom luxury.
As more businesses get exposed to the value of video conferencing, many
will explore the full gamut of products and services. Many will quickly
determine that consumer products are often designed for unsecure applications,
almost always limited to two people, and generally use peer-to-peer connections.
Security and two-party limitations aside, the damper for business purposes is
direct peer connections, which simply do not work for the 99.99% of business
users that are on private IP addresses and behind a firewall (that blocks
these types of connections). Seasoned IT managers realize a commercial, not
consumer solution is required for business-to-business
multipoint video conferencing.
For these reasons, and many more, the future of
video conferencing is very bright. Multi-core processors
have plenty of compute power, video peripherals are inexpensive,
and cloud-based services such as Nefsis have eliminated the
requirement to install complex, video-specific switching equipment.
Both consumers and businesses enjoy a variety of immediately
available video conferencing products and online services. All
told, this makes delivering CPU-intensive applications such as
high-quality HD video conferencing, desktop sharing, and
collaboration to almost every organization and employees
at all levels an everyday reality.
Visual Communications Forecasted to Grow
As leading industry analyst groups, such as
Wainhouse Research and
Frost & Sullivan predicted,
much of the increasing market demand for conferencing services triggered increased
IT spending, better system and software interoperability, and increased acceptance
of the technology itself. From a September 2004 report, Frost estimated that by 2009,
web conferencing software and services, including video, voice, and data would be
a $9 billion industry. Wainhouse Research noted in its 2005 report, "Rich Media
Conferencing," that web conferencing software sales soared with a growth rate
of 48 percent in 2004 and a notable movement away from managed services to
Currently, the traditional business-to-business video conferencing market
is a $3 billion industry, predicted to grow to $5 billion by 2015 (Infonetics
estimate, as of June 2011). Incorporating other forms of visual communications
including unified communications, online collaboration and web conferencing,
rich media communications is a $10 billion industry forecasted to reach $15
billion by 2015.
Companies are becoming more distributed, there are more outsourced
partners, telecommuting employees, and networks with remote branch offices,
while at the same time the need for real-time interaction has grown. Multipoint
conferencing is taking place of meetings that used to have to
occur in person, while making businesses more efficient by cutting travel time
and related expenses.
Video Alone is Not Enough — Online Meeting Tools are Required Too
applications for web and video conferencing are virtually limitless. Today,
video conferencing is a standard communications medium for many companies.
For example, video conferencing is used for inter-office meetings,
training sessions, online project reviews, and ad hoc long-distance
meetings. Not to mention specialty applications such as
video remote interpreting, and
telemedicine just to
name a few.
As predicted, more industries and markets have taken advantage of video
conferencing. Manufacturers, healthcare organizations, engineering and
business service providers, and virtually every organization with complex
subject matter use video conferencing to meet and collaborate, instead of
flying and driving, or suffering the tedious and error-prone process of
emailing files back and forth to resolve a simple issue.
As video conferencing adoption grows, more line employees will
conduct online meetings where they seek to accomplish day-to-day tasks
— versus previous decades where boardroom applications were
comprised of executive talking heads, audio and video alone. As such,
the demand for more productive web collaboration, live sharing, and
online meeting tools will expand. It is not enough to simply appear
on video anymore. For meaningful problem solving, sales presentations,
and training, a full suite of web collaborations tools will be
required. The professional software tools, documents, and presentations
at one's disposal will be brought into any online meeting same
as meeting in-person or at one's workstation.
Video Conferencing Everywhere: Desktops, Rooms, Mobile...
The movement has already begun, but in a just a few short
years, online video conferencing providers will make their services
available on all desktop platforms and mobile devices. Video
conferencing will then be available in virtually every business
conference room, desktop and laptop, plus smart phones and
tablets. This will include Windows and Macintosh computers along
with any cell phone and tablet with a camera and Internet
connection. The barriers of different operating systems,
mobile devices and interoperability will be solved and
virtually anyone will be able to
The long-predicted videophone of the future is not a video phone
at all; it is your desktop computer, a standard video peripheral or
built-in camera, Internet access, and your video conferencing online
The long-term outlook for business video conferencing adoption is
strong, driven by competitive pressures for speed, soaring fuel costs
and travel limitations, while more complex products and services
everywhere require better visual communication tools.
The enabling technologies are still improving: economies of scale
will further reduce HD peripheral prices, while bandwidth and
processing power are in increasing supply.
For business applications, video is not enough. A full suite of web
collaboration tools are required for productive online meetings.
Video conferencing will soon be everywhere: desktops, conference
rooms, and mobile devices, plus consumer video calling from home and
virtually any Internet-connected device.
Consumer video calling and commercial, cloud-based online services
such as Nefsis will play a key role in expanding video
conferencing adoption from corporate boardrooms to all employees at
any-sized business. Anytime, anywhere, 'any device' video
conferencing is on the way.
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