Videoconferencing to hit critical mass on mobile
One of the most exciting areas in videoconferencing today is the integration of mobile devices and video, especially as end users grow increasingly comfortable with the form factor of smart phones and tablets, said an analyst with ABI Research Inc.

Subha Rama, senior analyst for enterprise communications with the Oyster Bay, N.Y.-based firm, points out that the industry has long debated when the videoconferencing market will reach critical mass.

“But, when the technology integrates with a popular mobile device the issue resolves almost instantly,” said Rama during a Webcast on Thursday.

Rama was referring to the growing popularity of Apple Inc.’s FaceTime application that allows end users to make video calls from their iPhone 4, iPod Touch or Mac.

The attention to mobile videoconferencing is prompting vendors to extend the traditional videoconference experience beyond the meeting room. For instance, Cisco Systems Inc. and Avaya Inc. launched tablets with videoconferencing capability, as well as did Research in Motion Ltd. with its PlayBook.

Rama said mobile videoconferencing was widely believed to be “a killer application for 3G services” but that the availability of LTE will give the market a launching pad.

Overall, 2010 was when the videoconferencing ecosystem began diversifying and video began to get integrated with various enterprise communications endpoints, said Rama. The market is only set to grow from there, she added.

The technology, she believes, will only become increasingly untethered from the enterprise meeting room. “It’s no longer just a travel replacement option, it’s more a tool for a meaningful and productive meeting experience,” said Rama.

Despite the growing allure of smart phones and tablets, Rama said such mobile devices do present impediments such as smaller screens, lower resolution and lack of a dedicated video overlay network “so there will be significant downgrading of video and audio qualities.”

CEO of Pleasanton, Calif.-based videoconferencing technology vendor Polycom Incpreviously spoke about his company’s use of videoconferencing technology across the 2,000 employees who choose to use it. “The value proposition is there, our travel budgets are less, and we’re not spewing carbon from planes or driving or in a cab,” said Robert Hagerty. “The productivity level is much higher.”

Hagerty, too, notes limitations presented by the mobile form factor that must be considered if there is to be a great videoconferencing experience. “The handheld does have the issue that holding it with a hand means it’s not a steady camera image,” he said. “The image needs to be higher than most people working on a handheld provide, since you’ll be looking up somebody’s nose if you aren’t careful.”

But Hagerty foresees videoconferencing migrating from niche to mainstream within the enterprise where all employees will have access to the technology. “To be provocative, I’d say voice-only will be a rarity on a wireless handheld, and videoconferencing will be the norm, sometime in the not-too-distant future,” said Hagerty.

Follow Kathleen Lau on Twitter: @KathleenLau
–with files from Matt Hamblen of ComputerWorld U.S.

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