Just a few years ago, the videoconferencing market consisted primarily of high-end room-based systems or grainy, poor-quality desktop systems that were more suitable for calling one’s parents than a business partner. Today, that’s changing as we see an emerging middle ground, not to mention more options for higher-quality video on the low end of the market.
Cloud-based services, mobile apps and unified communications are taking videoconferencing from the boardroom to line managers, sales staff and other employees. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges, particularly for companies that already have some videoconferencing infrastructure in place.
Gerry Holmes, director of information technology at the Canadian Cancer Society’s Ontario division, has been holding back from widespread use of videoconferencing for fear of crippling the network. At this point, only about half a dozen employees (out of 500) do some basic videoconferencing over the Internet using Adobe software.
But demand is growing in its 35 offices across the province. "In every business I’ve worked in, when you look at the central office versus the regional offices, there’s always an ‘us and them’ attitude," said Holmes, adding that videoconferencing represents an opportunity for more inclusive communications, faster decision-making as well as travel-related cost savings.
"Our biggest problem is most of our offices are connected with a DSL circuit and all of our Internet access is through an Internet connection in the data centre, so if we wanted to get into a videoconference between regional directors … they would all be making a connection into the data centre," said Holmes.
The pipe into the data centre would be affected, and that would affect employees across the province accessing files and e-mail. "Even though we have WAN accelerators on the network, which speeds up a lot, videoconferencing doesn’t have quite the same amount of acceleration associated with it [due to the] nature of the traffic, so we’re a little bit worried," said Holmes.
Nowadays, cameras are dirt-cheap and a lot of monitors and laptops come with built-in cameras. The bigger issue is supporting peak usage of video. For some offices, said Holmes, the network costs would go up substantially; an office paying $200 a month for DSL might have to pay $2,500 for T1 — for only three to five people. Still, he’s looking at different options and planning to find a cost-effective solution that won’t compromise quality.
Despite these concerns of Holmes and many other IT managers, the global market for videoconferencing systems and services is growing. According to Frost & Sullivan, the market was US$2.5 billion in 2010 and is forecast to more than double to US$5.5 billion by 2015.