Videoconferencing Options Expand; Falling prices and newer technologies make this tool more accessible—and useful

Updated September 15, 2013, 5:18 p.m. ET

Videoconferencing Options Expand

Falling prices and newer technologies make this tool more accessible—and useful

RACHEL NIELSEN

One would expect scientists with the institution that gave birth to the World Wide Web to be able to speak face-to-face over the Internet. But what scientists do at CERN, an international organization for physics research, defies most people’s expectations. Consider that a single video session can include hundreds of people. Some 300 sessions a day can take place among the 20,000 scientists affiliated with CERN, though they work in institutes scattered around the globe.The gargantuan scale and effectiveness of videoconferencing at Geneva-based CERN points to the rapid strides made in recent years in a technology that for decades hovered in limbo, out of reach, a futuristic holy grail.

Indeed, the market for corporate videoconferencing has exploded. Across business, higher education and health care, videoconferencing has gone from a stilted experience on a telephone with a screen to a smooth, integrated part of Internet communications. Today, videoconferencing is giving users on-the-go access from mobile devices, and overcoming the hurdles of disparate systems and devices as it continues a transition from hardware to software to cloud computing.

Market research firm International Data Corp. estimates that companies spent $2.6 billion last year on equipment such as room systems and network hardware—a figure that doesn’t even include software or cloud services.

What follows is a look at the wide range of options now available for organizations that want to add videoconferencing, either at the office or on the fly.

The Videoconference Room

Flashy, pricey room systems have been one of the most common deployments of videoconferencing technology in the workplace. Heavyweights in this market includeCisco Systems Inc., CSCO -24.33% Polycom Inc., PLCM +0.37% Logitech International‘s LOGN.EB -0.51% LifeSize unit and Avaya Inc.’s Radvision Ltd. unit. Such setups are still a facet of the executive conference room: giant flat screens, microphone and speaker devices on the table and a video camera perched on a wall. The final price tag can run into hundreds of thousands of dollars.

These room systems have an immersive quality. The crispness of both audio and video can combine to give the impression that all participants are in the same room.

Competitors, meanwhile, are rolling out aggressively priced products that let companies set up videoconference room systems for far less. AVer Information Inc.,3669.TW -0.22% based in Taiwan, sells the EVC100, a $999 system consisting of a wide-angle camera, microphone unit for the conference table and a codec, the box enabling the video communications. When combined with the buyer’s television screen or other wall display, it allows the conference room to be used for video chats.

Another company, Vidyo Inc., a startup based in Hackensack, N.J., sells a system that can link hundreds of participants in one session. Each screen displays up to eight people, and multiple screens can be linked in the same room. The cost is $4,500 per screen.

The Software-Only Model

For companies that lack a budget for special equipment, or have no interest in configuring a video room, a growing number of services entail only a software download from the provider’s website. The user simply needs a webcam, microphone, speakers and high-speed Internet connection—all of which are common to most desktops, tablets, laptops and smartphones.

Some of these software services are free, including ooVoo LLC’s service of the same name, and Google Inc.’s GOOG -2.92% Hangouts, part of its Web-based Google+ suite that includes Gmail. As many as 10 devices can link up using Google Hangouts, and 12 using ooVoo. Both have screen sharing that shows documents on your device to fellow video chatters, and both can be used on Microsoft Corp.’s MSFT -10.89%Windows, Apple Inc.’s AAPL -1.65% Mac and mobile iOS, and Google’s Android platforms.

Skype, now a Microsoft division, has been synonymous with video calling for a decade. It offers free video sessions for two people, but a session between three or more requires that one person subscribe to Skype Premium. The monthly fee of about $5.30 enables video chat with as many as 10 devices. As part of the package, Skype throws in screen sharing and free telephone calls. Multiple accounts can be overseen with Skype Manager, a Web-based dashboard tool.

Other popular software video programs include the free iChat and the 99-cent FaceTime for Mac for Apple fans.

Vidyo sells a software-only product, and its software powers CERN’s videoconferencing system. In a version the company says it expects to launch in the next few months, as many as 16 people—the last 16 people to speak—will be visible in a display reminiscent of the “Hollywood Squares” TV show. Vidyo also provides the sending-and-receiving technology behind Google Hangouts, says Marty Hollander, a former senior vice president and now consultant for Vidyo.

The Cloud Enters the Picture

In addition to models that rely on software and the user’s own hardware, there is another videoconferencing model that involves no downloading of software, but uses cloud computing. Like other cloud products, Blue Jeans Network works across different types of software, video terminals, computers and network equipment. The company says its service works with almost any device with a webcam and high-speed Internet and can connect as many as 25 devices.

Users can join a Blue Jeans chat just by using their Web browser. Other services, such as Adobe Systems Inc.’s ADBE +0.25% Adobe Connect, also require only a browser, which means customers and business partners can join a video chat on the fly without installing software.

The heavyweights have revved up their cloud offerings over the past two years, says Rich Costello, a senior analyst in enterprise communications infrastructure at IDC. Those include Polycom’s RealPresence CloudAXIS Suite and Logitech’s LifeSize Connections, both software-cloud combinations.

CERN is working with Vidyo to build up its scientists’ video network by using cloud computing. It already is highly mobile: CERN scientists can join a video session from a smartphone, tablet computer, desktop computer or video terminal, says Joao Fernandes, global videoconferencing services manager for CERN.

Videoconferencing is critical for CERN scientists. As Mr. Fernandes notes, “The majority of people are not here.”

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

One Response to Videoconferencing Options Expand; Falling prices and newer technologies make this tool more accessible—and useful

  1. aliasgarbabat says:

    Web / Video Conferencing helps people to collaborate with each other instantly, share ideas and documents, conducting meetings, giving online presentations etc. which saves both, time and money. There are various web conferencing services such as WebEx, RHUB, gotomeeting etc. to select from.

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