Meeting from Remote Locations – the
The ability to see facial expressions, the roll of the eyes, the look of interest, the quizzical glance is a key part of communication. In fact, the non-verbal components of communication often convey much more that mere words. However, to fly across the country for a 4-hour business meeting is very costly in terms of time and travel expense. Videoconferencing in some cases offers the best of both worlds: the ability to meet with people around the world without the travel time and expense while still retaining these very important non-verbal cues.
Once the only means of video conferencing was via satellite. The costs were about as astronomically high as the satellites themselves. With the advent of higher speed data lines, good quality teleconference video can be purchased as a fraction of the cost. Now, with the “fat-pipe” bandwidth that is currently being laid, good quality videoconferencing will eventually become nearly as easy and inexpensive as long-distance telephone calls are today. With the explosion of remote offices and distance learning options, videoconferencing will play an integral role in business communications and in meetings in general.
This article will cover the range of videoconferencing options available today, and point the way to what is around the bend as well.
The benefits to videoconferencing are numerous:
Satellites offer full broadcast-quality video and are still in common use in a one-to-many environment. The video signal is uplinked to a geo-stationary satellite where it can then be broadcast over a very large area. Each downlink must have a satellite dish receiver. If you have large audiences in many locations, and require very high quality video this is still the most commonly used method. Costs, due to the major production, equipment, staffing and satellite time can easily run in hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Videoconference rooms are installations, usually in conference rooms, designed for group discussions, distance learning and one-to-many applications. Good quality video can be distributed via a company local area network, ISDN line or T-1 or T-3 high-speed lines. Costs range from $10,000 to $40,000 per installation with the prices dropping. Additionally, more than 6,000 public sites are available at an average room rental of about $200 per hour. Kinkos (www.kinkos.com) is one of the leaders in provide public rooms. However, a full directory can be found at GVCNet Knowledge Base (www.gvcnet.com). Theses systems are designed for one-to-several locations and features often include document cameras and remote-controlled camera with zoom lenses allowing the viewer to determine the view.
Desktop Systems/ Web Conferencing
Desktop units are used at a
workstation or desk and are best suited for one-to-one applications in a similar
manner to a telephone call. They work over local area networks, ISDN lines,
standard telephone lines and increasingly over the web. The cost can range for
stand-alone non-web based systems from $500 to $5,000 with costs likely to
decrease substantially in the last few years.
Your computer (and
ultimately your cell phone), however, is where videoconferencing is going. A meeting will be a click or a button-push away at your
desktop and, eventually, wherever you are. With the advent of DSL (digital
subscriber lines) and cable modems, major strides are being taken in this area.
The big plusses are convenience (right at your desktop) and very low
costs (your computer and a $70 video camera can get you going).
The major disadvantage is low-quality transmission on a small screen.
Even at its best, the quality web video is substantially less than
broadcast – small, grainy, jerky images are common. Web systems are usually
point-to-point applications similar to a telephone call. This technology
together with many online collaboration tools (www.webex.com
for example) provide not
only video, but a whole range of collaboration tools such as document sharing,
desktop sharing, presentations, interactive white boards, and more to
increasingly larger audiences.
Things are rapidly changing in this area. As computer processors continue to quicken, as image compression increases (pushing more image faster through the same pipe), and as high bandwidth options simultaneously improve and cheapen, and as other online collaboration tools develop, web-based video conferencing and collaboration will become much better quality, and very commonly used for some meetings. While this virtual meetings will never replace the face-to-face contact and the handshake, they will become and indispensable tool for many types of virtual meetings.
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