Videoconferencing Interoperability Advances

Videoconferencing technology manufacturers and network solution providers are working on furthering system interoperability standards in the next 12 to 18 months that promise to broaden the technology's reach and drive virtual meetings usage higher.

This month, more than 90 percent of major videoconferencing solutions provider Tandberg's shareholders approved Cisco's $3.4 billion acquisition offer, giving the network communications giant control of the Norwegian-based company. Tandberg's systems operate on interoperable platform standards. Neither Cisco's TelePresence nor Hewlett-Packard's Halo units typically work with other such systems.

As those closed systems open up and new network technology is built on industry standards, users will receive higher-resolution video, enhanced ability to pass along such content as business presentations, improved voice quality and reduced latency.

It also will bring the ability for immersive telepresence or multi-screen, multi-camera virtual meetings to work across the different manufacturer's systems. According to Polycom vice president of marketing Joan Vandermate, there currently are no standards for such systems, which causes, for example, a user in London sitting on the left side of the room on one system to appear on the opposite side of another system in New York.

Videoconferencing solution providers also are working with corporate security systems to link one company to another.

Despite advancements, some said full interoperability will be tough to come by.

"The trouble is that it has been 12 to 18 months for the past two years," according to Scott Morrison, research vice president for information technology research and advisory company Gartner. "There are always new complexities. The good news is that even if Cisco's acquisition of Tandberg hadn't gone ahead, Cisco had already tied its flag to the mast of pushing for interoperability because its real interest is not in the endpoints. Its real interest is not in having extra revenues from videoconference endpoints and end users, it is in driving more use of the network."

While videoconferencing purchasing decisions often are handled by C-level executives or the IT department, according to manufacturers, meeting planners are increasing their role in the technology's daily administration.

According to a third-quarter survey of 97 managers of meetings, training and IT in 23 industries conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers assurance director Debi Scholar, 26 percent of respondents said virtual meetings are managed by the meeting planning department and 23 percent said they are managed by IT. Fourteen percent said there is no formal management of the technology in their organization.

"It is something that if meeting planners aren't involved with, they should be," Scholar said. "People tend to go for them for face-to-face meetings, so it only makes sense that they would go to them for virtual meetings. It does not eliminate the need for IT, because IT still has to be there to support the technology and to possibly even recommend the technologies. Procurement still has to be there to negotiate the contracts."

Increasing use of videoconferencing tools requires a higher degree of internal management from corporate procurement, information technology, meetings and travel departments. Another barrier to use of the technology is the high price of the systems, which can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars for a single unit.

However, manufacturers are rolling out tiered pricing models, smaller units and stripped down versions of the technology.

Meanwhile, Tata Communications senior vice president of global managed services John Landau said costs are decreasing from 10 percent to 20 percent each year.

"Pricing is stabilizing," according to Tandberg president of global businesses Rick Snyder. However, he said, "we are also seeing more price points in more categories that are being defined."

Originally published Dec. 21, 2009