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The office goes where the employee goes: the continued growth of video conferencing

The video conferencing (VC) market has leapt forward in recent years, driven by changing workforce dynamics that place a higher emphasis on workforce collaboration and the need to reduce business costs such as rental and travel.

Developments in VC technology have also helped. A handful of years ago, a company might have had a dedicated room for VC use, but it’s probably long since been converted to a breakout space and the jumble of cumbersome equipment it once held, sent for recycling. Modern VC kit is software-based, portable and easy to use.

Most business users will be familiar with consumer-grade VC — Facebook, WhatsApp, Microsoft Skype, Apple FaceTime, Amazon Chime — and expect the same experience during business hours. Of course, it’s not quite that simple.

Enterprise buyer considerations

The first thing companies must do is to decide whether they need a discrete VC capability or can rely on features provided by collaboration tools, such as Microsoft Teams or Slack, that claim they can support hundreds of users without expensive additional equipment.  While these tools are a good fit for some, companies that use VC regularly, particularly for customer dialogue or executive decision-making, are likely to benefit from a VC solution.  If that’s you, read on.

There’s a wide choice of VC products for different usage scenarios — mobile, at-desk, small groups and huddle or permanent meeting rooms — and solutions are tailored for company size, reflecting different usage characteristics and budgets.

review earlier this year found the best VC services for small business were and RingCentral, both rating high on cost, scalability and ease-of-use.

At-desk VC can be delivered by a video IP phone such as the Yealink T49G or Grandstream's GXV3370. Yealink also have a desktop app that delivers 1080 HD with functions such as Meet Now, conference schedule and control and an integrated mobile app for android or IoS.

Despite the number of at-desk or portable solutions, meeting rooms remain the primary location for video conferences.

Huddle rooms —offices or conference rooms that can be quickly re-purposed into multi-party meeting rooms — are becoming more frequent and most vendors have solutions that emphasize portability. As well as being a benefit for bigger companies trying to reduce their real-estate footprint, the same tech is often a cost-effective solution for small and medium-sized businesses.

For meeting rooms that are largely dedicated for VC use, Grandstream's GVC302 has a form size and price that will appeal to SMBs — it’s also based on Android 4.4, meaning it has access to a range of apps that can improve user experience — while  for large enterprise the IPVT10 server can live broadcast YouTube videos and simultaneously support up to 300 participants across 10 locations in multiple languages.

At the top end of VC users are companies with senior managers in different locations, where frequent multi-party decisions are required, or those who operate real-time control centers, such as utility providers. Small, single display solutions are unlikely to give the immersive experience they need, but Polycom’s 18-foot video wall copes admirably.

Network and implementation considerations

The starting point when considering a VC implementation is to understand usage patterns:  the number of users, meeting frequency, meeting type and so on.  Even a mid-sized company will have several answers to these questions, meaning a single product is unlikely to cover every eventuality, and a selection will be required.

Which brings us to another implementation consideration: interoperability.

WebRTC, an open framework that enables real-time communications from a browser, has gone a long way towards encouraging standardization. Products based on WebRTC, such as Grandstream's IPVideoTalk, are worth searching out if you have a complicated mix of hardware, software and network products.

HD quality is expected by most users — some will ask for 4K — but with high quality comes the need for high bandwidth. Senior business managers in particular need to understand the cost impact and a thorough analysis of current and future network capacity needs to be done pre-purchase.

Finally, a decision needs to be made between on-premise or cloud-based solutions. The pros and cons are much the same as for any technology delivery. Cloud-based solutions minimize the initial investment and easily keep pace with organizational changes, but often at the expense of high service pricing. There’s no firm answer, and each company needs to do its own ROI calculation.