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. 

Interoperability almost always comes up anytime video conferencing is discussed. But what exactly is interoperability and why is it so important?

The definition of interoperability is the ability to make systems and organizations work together (inter-operate). In the video world, it is the ability for two video conferencing systems to connect with each other. For example, a Polycom system is interoperable with any other Polycom system. Or, a standards-based video system is interoperable with any other standards-based video system. However, standards-based video systems do not natively interoperate with consumer desktop clients like Skype or Google Video Chat.

So why is interoperability so important?

Let’s look at two different video conferencing scenarios.  Apple FaceTime and H.323 Standards-Based Systems (Polycom/Cisco Endpoints).

FaceTime is an extremely easy to use video client that is available on all Apple devices. Simply open the application, click on a name in your contacts list, and you’re automatically connected over video when that person picks up. However, FaceTime is only available on Apple devices. If I want to call my mother with it, she has to have an iPhone, iPad or Mac computer. If she does not own one of these devices, I simply cannot call her on FaceTime.  While the application may be a terrific way to video conference, it’s only as great as the people who have these devices.

H.323 on the other hand, is a standard video protocol that manufacturers use to allow their systems to speak the same language. Essentially, any system that is based on H.323 standards can communicate with any other system that is based on H.323. As a result, people can video conference anyone on this platform instead of only being able to connect with people who have a device from the same manufacturer.

This is why interoperability is so important – because of the network effect. The value of video conferencing is dependent upon the number of others using it. Or, in other words, the number of different users and systems people can connect to.  If Cisco systems could only connect to Cisco systems the value of video would be extremely limited. What happens if a company with Cisco equipment wants to video conference with one of its suppliers but the supplier has a Polycom video system?  However, if a Cisco endpoint can connect to Polycom, LifeSize, desktop computers, smartphones and tablets – the value rises exponentially.

Another example is desktop unified communications clients such as Microsoft Lync. These clients handle voice, screen sharing, and video all in one application. In many cases, organizations will deploy Lync to thousands of desktop, enabling video conferencing for nearly all its users. With interoperability those users can participate in meetings that are held in conference rooms and with users on different systems. In the case of Lync, native interoperability is becoming more ubiquitous as Lync continues to grow in popularity.

It is important for organizations to ensure whatever solution they implement is truly interoperable and not built as a “walled garden” that can prevent true collaboration from occurring.

The past year has been full of exciting announcements in the video conferencing and visual collaboration industry. The industry is rapidly changing and 2012 was a particularly noteworthy year for video conferencing. The term ubiquity was thrown around more than ever before due to increased access to video solutions . Here are some particularly noteworthy announcements and trends from 2012.

Greater Interoperability
Always a hot topic, interoperability continued to be a major trend in 2012. The Open Visual Communications Consortium (OVCC), of which Polycom was a founding member, continued to expand its membership; and in late 2012, the first services that connect its members’ clouds became available. This was a major step to breaking down barriers between video conferencing and telecom providers.

Video Conferencing in Your Browser
The introduction of HTML5 and WebRTC have made video conferencing widely available by allowing participants to video conference directly from their browser. Participants no longer have to download software and set up different accounts for different platforms. This provides numerous opportunities for business-to-consumer video conferencing. Blue Jeans greatly enhanced its service this year with a browser connection option.

Higher Quality Mobile Video
Mobile devices, like smartphones and tablets, are being equipped with better cameras on the front of the device making high quality video more readily accessible. Users no longer have to sacrifice quality for mobility; as long as they have a solid internet connection, users can have the best of both worlds. Both the iPhone and iPad were updated to include 720p resolution on their front cameras.

Pervasiveness of Cloud Services
Cloud services have become one of the biggest trends in 2012. Cloud services play a major role in business continuity by providing an extra layer of redundancy. Additionally, these services help expand an organization’s network by easily connecting remote employees. The cloud has also been incredibly powerful in expanding interoperability.

Nintendo and Vidyo Partnership
In a revolutionary announcement, Nintendo announced that the Wii U will support point-to-point video conferencing capabilities powered by Vidyo technology. This has the possibility to represent the largest deployment of living room video conferencing systems in history and truly makes video available to the masses.

Polycom
Polycom continued to shift its focus to software and cloud based services. In October, Polycom made a slew of announcements that included new room endpoints, mobile applications, software based infrastructure, and most notability, its CloudAXIS suite. This solution (another browser based option) enables users to video conference with anyone on their social contact list including Facebook, Google Chat, Skype, and more. The user simply drags their contacts into a window, clicks connect and each participant receives a link on whatever service they are logged into.

Cisco
In 2012, Cisco continued to expand its collaboration footprint beyond video conferencing. Key announcements included the expansion of their WebEx offering, as well as, moving its Quad offering (a social collaboration tool) to the WebEx brand. Expect Cisco to unveil a slew of new video offerings in 2013.

This past year has been significant for the world of visual collaboration. As we move to 2013 (provided the world doesn’t end tomorrow), the industry will continue to grow and evolve. Each announcement and service has the potential to bring the true video ubiquity that many have envisioned.