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The changing face of videoconferencing: It's getting cheaper and better
|10 октября 2011|
Videoconferencing, once so expensive that only enterprise customers could afford it, is seeing a change in the market that, some day soon, will make it as commonplace as the smartphone.
And, just like the smartphone, the technology is improving so dramatically that even off-the-shelf platforms and SaaS alternatives are starting to climb up the customer ladder, making inroads into SMBs and smaller enterprises, a segment that, analysts agree, will help drive video-conferencing revenues over the next several years.
"There are numerous advantages to telepresence, such as reducing travel costs, improving productivity and reducing carbon footprints, and the technology is now of a very high quality, so take up is increasing," said Ovum analyst Richard Thurston.
The technology is spreading across almost all verticals. Telemedicine is experiencing a boom as the healthcare industry looks to expand services to remote areas that are too difficult, or far away, to travel to. They're expanding services, like surgical consults, mental health services and patient assessment.
"Telemedicine has the potential to open up consultations with top specialists, regardless of your location," said Manhattan Research's president, Meredith Ressi. "Combined with the impending shortage of primary care physicians, the implications of these technologies for how healthcare is delivered in our country are remarkable."
Videoconferencing systems also are being used in universities to allow students to take classes that might not have been available to them before; using subject-matter experts, say, from one area of the country--or the world--to teach a class in a distant city.
But its not only high-end applications that are driving the boom.
One-person ad agencies, for example, are using the technology to make presentations to clients in other cities, not only presenting images and charts, but actually making virtual eye contact with customers.
According to CED, 62 percent of Americans videoconference or video chat weekly; Frost & Sullivan says 67 percent of companies use videoconferencing and forecasts that the videoconferencing and services market will reach $5 billion by 2016.
The growth and the acceptance by small and large businesses alike is all part of the consumerization of the segment. Devices are getting cheaper, platforms are using bandwidth better and bandwidth is becoming cheaper and more abundant.
Skype, Google+, FaceTime and all the other free video chat services have opened us up to the technology. We use it in our personal life, get used to it and gradually allow it to infuse into our work life, too.
"The social networking movement that has happened is starting to bleed into the business segment," Telesphere CTO Sanjay Srinivasan told FierceEnterpriseCommunications.
The number of middle-level to high-end videoconferencing offerings also continues to increase, with cloud offerings available for as little at $10 a month. The push up from videoconferencing systems looking to gain customers in the SME segment, meanwhile, has prompted the bigger players to look for ways to infiltrate the SMB market, something they've had no desire to do in the past.
The true promise of the industry, the one that has the industry sitting on the edge of its collective seat, is the mobile side of the equation.
"In this industry," said one sales executive whose company is poised to roll out its own mobile solution, "there has always been a ‘wait until tomorrow' feeling. Well, with mobile, that day is here. Today is tomorrow."
Blame it all on Apple
Apple's 2010 launch of the iPad was a seminal moment in the mobile computing world, but the launch of the iPad 2 and its camera this spring is what allowed video calling and videoconferencing to really light up the industry. Despite its short time on the market, numerous companies have adopted the iPad 2 as an endpoint and as part of their strategy to grow their share of the multi-site videoconferencing market.
While an hour in a rented dedicated telepresence room with a Cisco, Polycom or Radvision platform can set you back $1,000, multiple companies are offering apps for the iPad for free. And, with 900 million tablets forecast to be shipped by 2016, the addressable market--and the potential adoption--is huge.
Citrix in August added an HD videoconferencing service, HDFaces, to its $39-a-month web collaboration platform. It works on a desktop, laptop, smartphone or tablet. And, it's easy to use.
"The message we have to get out to the market (is) the understanding that videoconferencing has finally come to a level where it's no longer a Jetson's promise anymore; it's not a novelty," Bernardo de Albergaria, VP and GM of collaboration for Citrix Online, told FierceEnterpriseCommunications. "It's a vital tool to use with a diversified and distant workforce. It's not just for the C-level suite anymore.
"Before long, it will be strange to be on a conference call and not be on a video conference," he added.
By Jim O’Neill