“Our industry does not respect tradition – it only respects innovation.”
            – Satya Nadella, CEO, Microsoft

There is no denying that Microsoft Lync is experiencing explosive growth as a unified communications solution for organizations large and small. From IM and presence to full enterprise voice and HD video conferencing, Lync provides a total communications solution.

Last week Microsoft held its 2nd Annual Lync Conference in Las Vegas. This conference nearly doubled in size from 2013 when it was held in San Diego. This massive increase in attendance is a strong endorsement of Lync’s growth and presence in the market.

At this year’s conference, newly named Skype and Lync VP Gurdeep Singh Pall took to the stage to deliver this year’s keynote address. From the beginning there was a clear message that Lync and Skype are truly coming together. The presentation began with a look at the growth both Lync and Skype have been experiencing. One particularly amazing statistic was that one third of all global long distance calling occurs via Skype.

Lync has become Microsoft’s fastest growing business unit with yearly revenues now exceeding $1 billion and the business unit has seen 38 consecutive quarters of double digital growth. Additionally, 60% of enterprises have or are deploying Lync. The focus on the conference then shifted to some of the latest product and technology updates. Derek Burney, Corporate of Vice President of Strategic Relations and Solutions for Lync and Skype, took the stage to conduct the demos. He focused on several key areas:

Mobility:
Lync now supports iOS, Android (now both smartphones and tablets), Windows, and Mac OS X. In a matter of moments, Burney created a meeting with every compatible device in one session. Key features now available in Lync mobile include:

  • Content viewing (native for Powerpoint)
  • Invite additional participants from the app
  • Anonymous Join

Microsoft is sending a clear message in that mobility and cross platform support is incredibly important to their strategy.

Interoperability:
As part of the demo, Burney was able to invite a TANDBERG (clearly didn’t want to mention Cisco’s name) video conferencing system right into a Lync session. The connection was seamless and the quality was quite good.

Skype to Lync:
At the 2013 conference, audio and IM between Lync and Skype clients was demoed. Burney brought things up another notch and demoed a video call between Skype and Lync. The message here is that connecting an enterprise platform to a consumer platform creates incredible opportunities for B2C communication. This functionality will be released later this year.

Embedding Video Anywhere
As many other communications vendors have presented, this demo featured a website (in this case for a healthcare network) that allowed the user to have a real-time video conversation right on the site. Most vendors have chosen to go with the open standards WebRTC protocol to achieve embedded video. Microsoft has chosen not to embrace WebRTC and instead has created its own JavaScript APIs to achieve this. It should be interesting to see how this impacts the adoption of WebRTC.

After the technology demo ended, two large scale Lync customers (Herb Keller, VP and CTO of Adventist Healthcare & Dean Leung, CIO of Holland & Knight) were invited on stage to discuss their particular use case. This discussion begins at around 42 minutes in the video and is a fascinating look at how two very different types of organizations have integrated Lync into their business models and workflows.

In closing, Gurdeep Singh Pall discussed Microsoft’s vision of communications for the future. This includes total integration across all platforms with context. Meaning, systems understanding who is involved in meetings and providing context based searching and alerts (see 01:05 in the video). Finally, Microsoft’s goal is to have 1 billion users of their communications platforms in the next ten years. They are calling this next era, Universal Communications.

We live in some amazing times with amazing technology and tools. Microsoft’s goals are ambitious but have the potential to connect people like never before!

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Welcome to our bi-weekly recap of the week’s best articles surrounding collaboration.

School Days 2.0: Connected, Borderless, and Highly Inclusive
Just as the Internet of Everything is disrupting so many other areas of our lives (not to mention business models), its ever-expanding wave of network connectivity promises to upend education as well. Within the context of learning, the very definition of schools, students, teachers, and classrooms is being challenged. Now, your classroom is wherever you happen to be, and your lessons often take place when you want them

How Technology has Changed our Daily Commute Forever
Mobile technology and connectivity has, and still is, changing the daily commute for workers. It’s a combination of smarter, smaller more portable devices and faster, more widely available connectivity that is driving this change in behavior. Commuting on public transportation is a very different experience today. Almost every kind of public transport now either gives passengers access to Wi-Fi or they can use mobile data networks. Similarly, Social media is a booming interactive tool for travel companies to interact with their passengers, alerting them to disruption, delays and fixes.

Building a Successful Mobility Roadmap
Specifically, today’s mobile landscape is demanding constant evolution. From listening and responding to the mobility needs of employees to deploying home-grown apps, a flexible and holistic roadmap for mobility and mobile apps is essential. While mobility continues to be a growing trend that offers businesses new opportunities, many companies have yet to fully realize the true potential of mobility.

Teledermatology as reliable, efficient as in-person consults
Remote consultations from dermatologists using a smartphone app have proven reliable and efficient at prioritizing inpatient consultations for patients with skin conditions. Outlining their study results in JAMA Dermatology, researchers in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania concluded that this method can help deliver dermatology care more efficiently in busy hospital settings.

How Video Makes a Difference in the Way I Work
87% of remote users feel more connected to their team and process when using videoconferencing, according to a Gigaom report on video conferencing and business collaboration published last month. Video gives people insight into people beyond the meeting agenda. These little pieces of information give perspective on someone’s day and they open opportunities to know more about people with whom you are spending virtual time. Similarly, with multitasking at epidemic proportions, collaborating via video helps you know that the people on the other end of a call are paying attention.

As advances in technology have made remote healthcare and treatment more accessible, the question of insurance reimbursement for these services continues to be top of mind. In 2012, we featured a post regarding telemedicine reimbursement. In the 18 months since that post was published significant progress has been made in the area.

When looking at reimbursement it is important to understand what types of programs and institutions are eligible and what that truly means. At its very core, reimbursement in the telemedicine world requires insurance companies to pay the same fee for telemedicine services that would otherwise be covered with an in-person visit.

Programs that could benefit can vary from state to state but generally reimbursement is available through Medicare, Medicaid, Private Insurance, and Federally Qualified Health Centers.

From a private insurance standpoint, a significant number of states have made reimbursement a mandate; however, there are still many states that haven’t made this mandate law.  Similarly, from a Medicaid perspective many states have mandated reimbursement and there are several currently proposing reimbursement.

It is clear that many have recognized the value of telehealth and that recognition continues to drive more and more legislation to provide equity between in-person and remote visits.

Check out the info graphic below for a quick summary of everything you need to know about reimbursement!

Video conferencing is moving from a nice-to-have to an essential business tool. This is, in part, due to the ease of which video solutions have become available along with the removal of many barriers to B2B video calling. Here’s a look at a few of the most prominent obstacles and what has been or is being done to overcome them.

A User Friendly Dialing Plan:
Placing a call over video used to be a complicated process due to the lack of a universal number system. Users had to remember an IP address, often up to 12 digits with no logical sequence. Today, there is more consistency video calling standards. Advancements in technology allow organizations to assign unique video addresses to endpoints or personal video accounts. These can be formatted like an email address and can use the organization’s domain name instead of having to remember a 12 digit IP address.

A High Quality Experience:
Technology itself has improved significantly since the birth of video conferencing, creating a stronger and more consistent experience. The shift from standard definition to high definition displays and codecs has allowed video conferencing to become increasingly more realistic. This is significant since eye contact and other visual cues play a crucial role in communication, collaboration and business meetings in general.

Interoperability Between Systems:
Interoperability was traditionally one of the biggest barriers to B2B video conferencing. Existing video solutions did not connect well with each other and in many cases didn’t connect at all. This severely limited the number of individuals who could use video, thereby inhibiting the effectiveness of video conferencing. The creation of video protocol standards along with interoperability bridges has created a much larger network of users who can utilize video, which increases the value of video to businesses.

Reliable High Speed Network:
Network issues can destroy a video call; from packet loss and frozen images to completely dropping the call. Successful video meetings require a reliable, high-speed network. Unfortunately, the bandwidth necessary for a solid call used to be very pricey. Today, the cost of bandwidth is decreasing rapidly as well as becoming more widely accessible.  

Security:
Massive traffic between a private business network and the public Internet can create both real and imagined concerns. Firewalls have always played an important role in protecting internal applications and data within an organization, however, these firewalls can present many challenges for B2B video conferencing by restricting access to who can and cannot be called over video. Thankfully, firewall traversal devices along with virtual meeting rooms have made it easy to connect with external video users without compromising the security of an organization’s network.

While there are still challenges to B2B video calling, it has gotten significantly easier. Businesses are able to connect with colleagues, partners and even customers easier than ever before and with continued improvements it’s only a matter of time before video calling is as easy as picking up the telephone. 

The proliferation of desktop and mobile video solutions, along with WebRTC, has allowed participants to join a video call virtually anywhere there is an internet connection. However, a poor internet connection can destroy a video conference. Here are a few things you need to know when joining a video call over the internet:

Download Speed:
Download speed is the amount of bandwidth people have coming to their computer from the Internet. Think of a road coming toward an office; the more lanes it has the more traffic the road can handle. Similarly, the more downstream bandwidth people have the more internet traffic they can accept. For a point-to-point business quality video call it is recommended to a minimum download bandwidth of 384Kbps. For each additional call participant an additional 384Kbs is recommended. For example, a 4-way call will need 1.5Mbps + 20% for overhead. For High Resolution (HD) video conferencing, a minimum of 1Mbps (+20%) download speed is recommended.

Upload Speed:
Upload speed is the amount of bandwidth people have going from their computer to the Internet. This is the road going away from an office.  Again, the more upload bandwidth one has, the wider the road is and the more traffic people can send. The upload requirements remain the same as the download requirements regardless of the amount of participants on the call.

Latency (Delay):
Latency is the amount of time it takes for the traffic sent to reach its destination. Using the previous analogy, even if there is a wide road going to and from the office, if a car is moving slowly on the road it will take a lot longer to get where it is going. If you notice it is taking a long time for your co-worker to respond on a video call or that you are talking over each other it is most likely being caused by high latency. Latency problems are often caused by network congestion; if you experience problems try ending the video call and starting it again. It is recommended that latency be below 250ms.

Jitter:
Jitter is the time difference it takes data packets to reach their destination and is usually caused by congestion in the network. This is akin to getting off of work and hitting the evening rush hour. Due to the congestion and high volume of drivers hitting the road at the same time it may take longer to reach your final destination.  Jitter causes packets to arrive at their destination with different timing and possibly in a different order than they were sent (spoken). Some arrive faster than they should while some arrive slower than they should. Low jitter, or a few packets off causing a slight flicker or flash, can be frustrating but tolerable.  High jitter on the other hand can make video nearly impossible to use as the image can be completely distorted. It is recommended that jitter be below 30ms.

Packet Loss:
Packet loss is when one or more of the data packets fail to reach their destination and is also caused by congestion on the network. Essentially, some of the packets are dropped by network routers or switches that become congested (lost packets), or they are discarded by the jitter buffer (discarded packets). This is similar to an audio call breaking up where you miss every few words and cannot understand much of the conversation.

Test Your Network:
There are a number of ways to test your network connection both for quality as well as any firewall/security restrictions. Check out IVCi’s new Cloud Video Experience Video Network Assessment test to see how well video is expected to perform on your network. Click here to star the test.