Spurred by the booming popularity of online video and an increasing awareness of IP communication technology, videoconferencing is more widely used than ever. Increasingly clever codecs (video compression algorithms) allow for greater increases in quality without higher bandwidth.
In many cases, it is now pretty much a free service, with the only barriers to entry being a webcam and a broadband connection. Many new laptops have both these components built in.
On the other end of the scale sit professional set-ups such as Cisco’s ‘telepresence’ installation. This involves a pair of meeting rooms in different locations with a semicircular table that curves into a large screen, creating the illusion of one large circular table.
High definition and a shared whiteboard enhance the sense of realism. The set-up feels very natural, but you will need deep pockets and an abiding passion for high margin networking equipment.
Save time and money
BT’s general manager of videoconferencing in EMEA, Ben Hobby, acknowledges that videoconferencing is no substitute for face-to-face communication, but he notes that ‘driving 30,000 miles a year gives you the same occupational risk as a coal miner’.
Beyond cost savings on transport and associated ‘green’ benefits, offering workers flexibility and the ability to work from home can dramatically boost productivity – as the recent snowstorms showed.
‘“Adaptable working” is ensuring that your workforce can effectively accomplish the same task as if they were in the office,’ Hobby explains.
When it comes to pricing, Hobby says that ‘for as little 15p per minute for each participating site’, a company can use its conferencing service to conduct a multipoint video conference on its own IP network. ‘With this pricing, workers in four different locations can collaborate in a one-hour video meeting for around £36,’ he adds.
But why bother with video when voice is cheaper and easier? Well, an extraordinary percentage of interpersonal communication occurs through body language – some studies put the figure as high as 80 per cent. With impersonal email used so pervasively in the business world, videoconferencing stands as a competitive differentiator.