Mobile video conferencing will have


While wireless video calling over mobile phones may gain some traction among consumers, the technology is not likely to have a pervasive enterprise impact – not in the foreseeable future at least, says a Canadian analyst.

The video calling feature, launched last month by Rogers Wireless, enables users to see the person they are speaking with on a video screen on their cell phone.

The service is currently available to users with a video telephony-enabled handset from Samsung Electronics Co.

The new technology may be useful in certain very specific business situations, says Tony Olvet, vice-president of communication practice at analyst firm IDC Canada Ltd. in Toronto.

He said mobile video calling may prove of value to field workers who need to capture an event in real time, and relay it to counterparts at another office or location.

Construction contractors, for instance, could transmit real-time images of building layouts to remote project collaborators, the IDC Canada analyst says.

He says, apart from such limited uses, mobile video calling won’t be as beneficial to enterprises, despite the trend towards telecommuting and virtual workplaces.

He cites several reasons for this.

For one, notes Olvet, companies that currently use video conferencing as a communications channel have issues with video quality.

It’s an issue providers of such services have been trying to address for some time. “[For instance] Cisco Systems Inc.’s TelePresence is trying to replicate being in a room with someone hundreds or thousands of miles away.”

There’s also the convenience factor. Olvet says surveys indicate vehicles are the most popular location for cell phone use, usually by the driver. “There are questions around the practicality of having a video conference when you’re moving, be it in a vehicle or walking.”

In addition, he says, businesses would face restrictions in the types of handsets they could offer their workforce, especially considering that the Rogers’ service is available on one device at this point. “Until there are a variety of devices that can support the [technology], it’s going to have limited applications.”

However, another industry observer doesn’t believe the device issue is a big obstacle to adoption.

It’s a short-lived issue, says Henry Dewing, principal analyst with Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass. “There are other devices capable of handling over-the-air video, and it’s just a matter of getting them certified.”

Dewing says there are other practical issues that may need to be resolved. One has to do with the size of the on-phone video, if it’s to be used to convey dense information on screen. “However, if all you want is a talking head, sometimes PDA-sized screens will be more than sufficient to know who the other person is.”

Dewing, who has been conducting research on video conferencing, says a visual aid often helps build relationships, and makes it easier to recognize people you are meeting for the first time.

However, he adds, a small screen on a mobile device may not be the best channel across which to conduct a meaningful conversation that supports the business.

Dewing says wireless video conferencing has “relevance inside the enterprise – but just not in its current instantiation.”

While Olvet too believes impact on the enterprise will not be immediate, he doesn’t discount the possibility that consumers may influence adoption of mobile video conferencing by the corporate world.

We may see this happen among younger employees who may be more familiar and interested in the new functions wireless phones have to offer, he says.

“We could be surprised by some of the early adoption behaviours.”

In fact, this latest mobile feature could be a trial for other potential applications down the road, says the analyst.


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