Videoconferencing allows visual contact without travel

Who could have predicted that one day we could all instantly communicate no matter where we were, no matter what we were doing? Thanks to our old friend and revenue generator, better known as “technology,” we have found ourselves in a time that allows for such magic to occur on a daily basis.

The trend started back when audio conferencing (conference calling) began to change the way in which people placed phone calls. From that point on, it was only to be a matter of time before video images entered the equation and videoconferencing (VC) was born. The advent of videoconferencing allowed for off-site meetings to take on a whole new meaning.

The early days included systems that were advanced for their time, but nothing in comparison to what is available in the marketplace right now. When videoconferencing first entered our world, it was a clunky system that, more often than not, required lots of specialized equipment and lots of cabling, software and hardware to support it. That is why there were actual “rooms” that housed the systems and that was where VC took place. The video feeds were slow and usually the voice and video did not match up—think of old kung-fu movies where the words and voices didn’t quite “fit.”

A popularity contest

Videoconferencing took off in certain markets much faster than in others. Market sectors such as healthcare, education, legal and financial realized immediate uses of the technology since these particular markets are generally spread out and need to connect people remotely on a regular basis. After it was proven that videoconferencing was a useful and effective form of communication, the next group to jump on board was Fortune 500 companies.

That all changed in our post-Sept. 11 world when flying lost much of its appeal and many turned to technology to bridge the geographic divide. One reason why implementing videoconferencing into business was the availability of basic VC systems such as Microsoft’s NetMeeting, which allowed users to hold conferences and conduct meetings all via the company’s network and the Internet.

Internet Protocol (IP) seems to be a major player in the VC market. In fact, published studies suggest that the videoconferencing over IP market grows between 70 and 80 percent per year. Talk about a nice niche to dabble in.

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) was what one may refer to as the first phase of the IP revolution. Video over IP was just the next logical step. Now it seems as if converged systems, those which meld the two together, seem to be just what the doctor ordered. It allows for users to experience the basic benefits of VoIP and enhance the whole package by adding fancy features such as streaming video and real time chat. This new phase helped illustrate the benefits associated with converge systems.

There is, however, one slight drawback to IP with regard to VC: other traffic tapping into the IP network may slow down the video images if there is not enough total and allocated bandwidth available. This is why there are now specialized software programs available that help alleviate this problem by sanctioning off a portion of the total bandwidth so that it can be exclusively used for VC needs. The software is quite snazzy in that it has advanced to the point where you can specifically state when you will need to use the bandwidth for VC and how much total time and usage you will require. Cool stuff.

Web baby

If an enterprise opts not to go the IP route, and many choose not to for various reasons, one can always turn to our good friend the Internet for a quick solution.

Web-based conferencing is an option that many explore right from the beginning since it offers a fast, flexible, cost-efficient and easily implemented way to start understanding and using VC. Web-based applications are not as advanced as their IP counterparts, but they have come quite a way since they were first introduced. This is an option for those with strict budgets and tentative technological ability.

Videoconferencing, like anything else, just seems to continually evolve. There are always faster, more efficient offerings taking center stage at any given tech show and that trend will most likely keep moving forward.

One of the newest features is actually a combination of other technologies. Instant video messaging has started to draw a following since it allows for users to communicate via instant messaging, with the added benefit of video images.

One of the most important things to keep in mind regarding VC is that sufficient bandwidth is the key ingredient to the whole thing. Remembering that can help one create a VC solution that keeps everyone happy and well connected. EC

STONG-MICHAS, a freelance writer, lives in central Pennsylvania. She can be reached at JenLeahS@msn.com.