What Will Video Conferencing Mean to Your Network?

Slowly, almost quietly, it’s growing - video traffic on your network. I’m not talking about streaming video, webcasting, or YouTube surfing. I’m talking about a different beast – two-way video conferencing. The guys in the corner office are seeing green when they talk about this – both in dollars (or pounds, or euros) as well as lower carbon footprints. I’m a futurist by nature, and I’m a huge fan of video communications. It’s quite simply the natural progression of the communications technologies that we’ve been building for years and years. And the ubiquity of IP networks is what is going to make this next major evolutionary step possible. There are just a few more technical issues to resolve. And, oh yeah, we might just need to add a little more bandwidth... Take, for example, the top end of video conferencing – solutions known as “telepresence”. To get organizations to fully embrace and utilize telepresence as an effective tool, Cisco tells me that their research indicates that it is essential that video reach 1080p resolution, which means ensuring 5 Mbits/sec connectivity. At lower resolutions, they claim that the human “connection experience” drops off significantly, and so will the likelihood that people will use it as a fully capable alternative to live, face-to-face contact. Cisco has some practical experience with this – they have deployed this extensively internally, in a grand “we eat our own dog food” experiment, with some really positive results. Now, you won’t need a high res telepresence suite everywhere, and so you may be able to handle this, or you may be willing to live with lower resolutions. My own experience with a 720p system was still very good, and very lifelike. At the other end of video conferencing spectrum is where we are ultimately headed – ubiquitous desktop video conferencing. And here, there is not the same level of expectation for high res and personal contact, so lower resolutions are just fine. I had a fascinating conversation with Avistar, who is trying to answer this ubiquity challenge. Their approach is that for this to work, they have to make their solution “network aware”, so that they offer, provision, and assure specific variable qualities of service each time a new session gets set up. Great idea, and they are onto something – the videoconferencing system should not blindly assume that adequate resources are available everytime a session is going to be set up. Avistar lacks a real-time aspect to their network awareness (at least for today), but they are on the right track. Starting next month, EMA will be conducting research on best practices for integrating voice and video over IP management into enterprise operations. If you would like to participate, please drop me a line at jfrey@emausa.com and I’ll put you on the list, and send you a copy of the results.

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