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Video Conferencing in Project Management

As technology keeps on progressing, industries are constantly adapting to a dynamic world. With the development of business at a faster rate, it is increasingly significant to execute improvements on projects. The fundamental key of effective project management lies in excellent communication specifically in conveying goals, updates and other information to the people/stakeholders involved.

Software MCU Comparison – What does the market offer?

A Videoconference Multipoint Control Unit (MCU) is a crucial part of every serious Videoconference infrastructure. It’s a system used to connect multiple media streams into a single Videoconference, therefore very often the MCU is referred to as a “bridge”.

The traditional MCU is a DSP (digital signal processing) based hardware whose primary functionality is to decode all incoming media streams, compose a single stream for each far-end participant and finally re-encode that stream before sending it out, needless to say all this requires a huge amount of processing power. More over, hardware-based MCUs define scalability on a per-port basis, which means if we want to have more participants connected in a Videoconference at the same time, we need MCUs with more video ports i.e. more DSPs and DSP hardware does not come cheap.

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LifeSize UVC Multipoint used on a Tablet

That is why a lot of companies are turning their attention towards a new type of product when it comes to multipoint Videconferences – the so-called “software MCU” or soft-MCU. A soft-MCU serves the same purpose as the hardware-based, except that all the transcoding and signal processing is done in the software which introduces big advantages in terms of cost, scalability and flexibility.

The soft-MCU eliminates the need for DSP hardware and can run on virtualized servers on private or public clouds, therefore it is significantly cheaper to deploy than the expensive hardware MCU. In terms of scalability, customers can often just purchase the number of ports they require at the time and then scale up or down easily as the need changes. Software MCUs offer also more flexible deployment, updates and feature enhancements are easy and more frequent, which gives them advantage in today’s fast evolving demands in the Videoconferencing world. Manufacturers can offer the soft-MCU for on-premise deployment on company’s internal servers (usually preferred by enterprises) but the lower end of the group video conferencing market will also benefit from the hosted services (cloud services) offered by providers.

Current market of Software MCU solutions

Although still in relatively early phase in terms of adoption, the market is all but short in offering soft-MCUs solutions for multipoint Videoconferencing. Some of them offered as pure software to be installed on industry-standard servers, some of them require some sort of hardware usually from the same provider which makes them a kind of  “hybrid” solution. I will just go briefly through some of the most talked about products out there at the moment:

 Avistar

Avistar offers the Avistar C3 Conference, a software-based MCU that runs on standard off-the-shelf hardware and operating system software, and on virtualized servers. It is mainly designed for on-premise deployment in enterprise environments, but service providers offering managed Videoconferencing services could also take advantage from it.

Each conference server can support up to 12 ports of simultaneous conferencing, video standards supported are H.263 and H.264 up to 1024 kbps call rate per endpoint with 30 fps.

 Polycom

The Polycom RealPresence Collaboration Server 800s, Virtual Edition is a multi-protocol, integrated, software-based multipoint MCU running on x86 servers. Mainly designed for mid-sized enterprises or to expand an existing RealPresence Collaboration Server (RMX) environment, it provides open standards scalable video coding (SVC) support and interoperability with systems that use advanced video coding (AVC). It can support up to 40 H.263 or H.264 video ports with 720p and 30 fps.

 Vidyo

Vidyo solution consists of Vidyo Router at its center, offered also as a virtual edition (VE), which performs transcoding-free packet switching using their patented Adaptive Video Layering (AVL) technology which introduces low-latency video-streams for endpoints over any IP network. It can be deployed on industry standard servers and is “VMware Ready” certified. Interoperability with legacy systems requires the use of VidyoGateway. The VidyoRouter VE comes in two models – VE 100 and VE 25 offering 100 and 25 concurrent HD connections respectively, supporting native rate and resolution matching per endpoint, up to 1440p at 60fps. Vidyo technology is available through service providers such as Videoconference24.

 Pexip

Pexip is a new start-up that offers pure-software based MCU called Infinity, which will be available from September. It can be deployed on industry-standard servers in a VMware virtualized environment and port capacity can be easily scaled up by adding more servers. It will support H.263 and H.264, SVC, VP8 video codecs as well as interoperability with WebRTC and Lync. We are yet to see how this product will perform in the real-world but it definitely looks promising with of supporting wide range of software clients and endpoints.

Acano

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Acana Software MCU Example

Acano is also also a new player in the industry, offering software solution that unites “previously incompatible audio, video and web technologies” in “coSpaces” which are essentially cloud virtual meeting rooms. People can use whatever devices they have to call into a coSpace, including mobile phones, tablets, PCs, Microsoft Lync clients or video endpoints. Designed for the x86 architecture, it runs on their optimized hardware, standard servers, as well as in virtualized environments and can support thousands of users per server, with further scale and resilience provided by native clustering. Major video standards are supported including H.264 AVC, SVC, WebM / VP8, Microsoft RTVideo, and said to support H.265 as well.

 Vidtel

Vidtel is primarily a service provider; does not offer soft-MCU for on-premise enterprise deployment, but they do offer hosted cloud Videoconferencing solution, labeled MeetMe – it’s a cloud-based, “any-to-any” video conferencing service which supports interoperability between SIP, H.323, Google Talk, Skype, and WebRTC. It supports up to 20 video conferencing endpoints with 720p. The infrastructure for video conferencing is hosted on a Vidtel central cloud and each participant is given a private meeting room ID and a login PIN; they use this to join the Vidtel MeetMe meeting and start communicating and interacting almost as if they were in the same office.

 LifeSize

LifeSize UVC Multipoint is a software-MCU that can be installed on industry-standard servers. It supports H.263 and H.264, SVC video standards and interoperability with Lync (Microsoft RTVideo). Customers can purchase and scale one port at a time and administrators can selectively control the quality and capacity of each port, ranging from 360p for mobile users to 1080p for room-based environments (with the Enterprise edition) and maximum of 128 participants in a single conference.

 Cisco

Cisco became the undisputed king in Videoconferencing hardware, with the acquisition of Tandberg, but they do not offer software-MCU that can be deployed on-premise. They do however offer cloud Videoconferencing service called – Cisco WebEx Telepresence, which can support up to 12 participants per conference with 1080p. At the moment it’s only available in the U.S. and Canada.

 Blue Jeans Network

Blue Jeans – similar to Vidtel, Blue Jeans is a service provider offering hosted hosted video bridging with multi-vendor interoperability including Skype and Lync. Also they are the developers of their own solution and allow re-selling. It supports up to 25 participants per meeting with 720p at 30 fps  and offers easy web based management capabilities for administrators as well as reporting capabilities.

 Avaya / Radvision

Avaya / Radvision is offering the Elite 6000 Series – software-based hybrid multi-point control unit providing high port density up to 40 full 1080p HD ports (80 720p) on a single 1U system. All the major video standards are supported as well as interoperability with other vendors.

As we can see there are lots of different flavors and there are more solutions out there, opening new opportunities for those who could not own standalone MCU before. It’s hard to say what the future holds, certainly it’s too early to dismiss hardware-based MCUs in which companies have invested a lot of money. It’s clear that the two solutions will coexist for some time and it’s up to the customers to choose the best solution for their business based on their requirements in usage, cost and features.


Software MCU Example Video by Pexip

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What is Telemedicine?

The term telemedicine is currently a big buzzword and has been written about by renowned press, such as the German Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. The first use of telemedicine and hence the use of the term too dates back a couple of years ago though. Generally the term telemedicine describes an approach where the physician is physically separated from his patient while examining or diagnosing him.

Through substantial improvements of modern video conferences and steady enhancement of IP networks worldwide, telemedicine has become a lot more important again. Telemedicine has been further professionalized driven by big countries and regions with a comparably low population density. Telemedicine can be used to make decisions essential to human life faster and for first diagnoses. Experts can consulted at a cheap price. Pioneers in telemedicine are the USA, Australia or the Scandinavian countries.

Modern video conference systems are often used as technical platforms, since they already offer many important features for telemedicine. Among the most important features are an optimal HD video conference quality for point-to-point connections and video conferences with more participants as well as the possibility to exchange files, x-rays or blood levels via video conference (Desktop Sharing). Especially video conference services that can be operated with different devices offer a good solution for telemedicine. Physicians can communicate with the patient via video conference from the meeting room, while the patient himself sits at home in front of his PC. Furthermore a specialist could be consulted via iPad while using the Wireless connection of his hotel.

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Example of Telemedicine:
Concept Art of Sarah Kaiser

Easy usability of video conference solutions is essential. The target group often exceeds the 60 years and is not used to handling modern equipment. Simple installation and self-explanatory user interfaces are hence crucial aspects for the deployment of telemedicine. Video conference solutions with a relatively low bandwidth should be preferred, since many patients will not have broadband Internet connections.

Telemedicine is used more often in Germany as well. Possibilities to make use of it are manifold. Physicians draw on systems for exchanging information with international colleagues. Patients can be dialled in for precaution, diagnosis and after treatment via the telemedicine system. Live broadcasts from the surgery to a lecture hall of a university are possible.

Despite the many possibilities to use telemedicine it has not spread as widely yet. The reservations can be explained with lacking experiences and high initial costs. Physicians increasingly look for easy solutions that can be rented and only cause relatively small costs per month.

Video conference hardware providers and video conference service providers have to take these requirements into account. Only some service providers are able to offer first class telemedicine concepts at a moderate price level already today.

Due to rising quality and lower costs of telemedicine and video conference services, also physicians in Germany will see the advantages of technical advancements for their patients and themselves in this sector and eventually integrate these developments in their daily processes.

Video Conference Services for Banks of the Future

How Video Conference Services can create additional value for banks of the future.

The Banking Sector and the whole financial industry have been subject to considerable change within the last couple of years. The fast development of the Internet and the growing acceptance of Internet users for online banking, entail great chances as well as great risks. Deutsche Bank AG Co-CEO Jürgen Fitschen has expressed his concerns about possible competition from big Internet companies such as Google or Microsoft, who have detailed knowledge about their customers’ preferences, which they could use for financial services.

Also video conference services play an ever growing role in the banking sector and add positively to change and modernization of business processes. Especially investment banks make use of video conference services in order to globally exchange real time information about markets, shares, currencies and other relevant information.

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“Deutsche Bank Skyscrapers in Frankfurt, Germany” by Thomas Wolf (www.foto-tw.de)

Up to now video conference services have been used seldom in areas such as Private Wealth Management, although those could potentially have an important impact on changing banking products and offers. Many banks keep themselves busy with designing concepts for bank branches of the future, in which video conference services certainly will be one of the components.

If you take a closer look at the traditional banking concept for private customers throughout Germany (provident banks, cooperative banks, Deutsche Bank, Postbank, Commerzbank and many more) you will not find a lot of creative approaches for change: During normal office hours customers get detailed advice about accounts and construction loans, leaving almost no time for individual advice.

Video conference services could leave more design scope to banks, thus helping them to offer better, faster and more tailored advice to their customers.

Improving Internal Communication

Using modern video conference services enables banks to equally inform all employees at all locations about current developments at the financial market, political changes or new products of the bank and their business partners. A big advantage compared to ordinary media channels (e-mail, intranet, video streaming, etc.) is the personal contact, which allows for further inquiries and therewith promotes a higher level of knowledge. Furthermore participation numbers are transparent.

Remote Experts Advice via Video Conference

In many cases customers confront their bank advisers with very complicated questions. The worst case is that the adviser will give the customer bad advice or has to start a lengthy inquiry within the bank to get the necessary information from an internal expert. Either way is not very customer friendly. A smart solution here would be to patch in the expert via video conference. This concept could also save travel costs where experts are shattered across the whole country and it additionally could accelerate decision processes concerning sales and distribution deals.

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This lady can talk to the right expert, thanks to video conferencing services.

Customer Advice via Video Conference

Modern video conference services can also be used to advice customers via video conference. Many video conference services permit taking part in a video conference via desktop PC, Mac or also with Tablet or Smartphone as mobile service. In the future bank advisers can effortlessly communicate with their customers via video conference. This still might sound like a vision to banks, but it should not be forgotten that the coming generation has been exposed to video conference services such as Skype since their early childhood and does not have any reservations against this communication medium. Banks certainly will have to look into this new consumer behaviour.

Consequently video conferences and modern video conference services have great potential for innovative financial services and banks. Putting technology to use in a smart way can be the decisive competitive edge for banks in creating an ideal environment for individual and superior advice also in the future.

Have you ever been using service like these or is your organisation having similar approaches? Let us know of your experiences and drop us an comment below!

Why ITIL is such a Crucial Criterion for Video Conference Managed Services

ITIL Standards everywhere – also relevant for AV services?

The ITIL Framework is the acronym for Information Technology Infrastructure Library and constitutes an important framework for professional IT Service Management in most IT departments. The ITIL framework is constantly developed further and at the moment the ITIL v3 Edition is on the market.

Why is ITIL so important for AV, Media Technology and Video Conference Managed Services?

This question is easy to answer, but more complex to implement. The technical development of Video Conference Services, Telepresence solutions and conference room technology progresses very fast. The probably most characteristic trait in this technical development of media technology is the fact that systems increasingly can be implemented in networks. The development from ISDN based video conferences to IP based video conferences had a big share in this. However, also other components of media technology are produced in an IP friendly way, such as media technology for signal management, Routing or Room Control. The idea is to establish easier management and monitoring of media technology, ideally from a remote location.

The development described above further leads to changing responsibilities within the sector of media technology in companies. Previously facility management was responsible for media and room technology, whereas today IT departments increasingly take over the responsibility for IP based media technology and video conferences.

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To master these new responsibilities IT departments also pose new challenges to suppliers and operators of media technology, so-called Video Conference Managed Services providers. Video Conference Managed Service providers should speak the same language as other IT sectors (network, firewall, security, etc.), but additionally should have expert knowledge about video conferences and media technology. The ITIL framework makes it easier to find a common language and makes it possible to implement and optimize cross-sector processes. External service providers are quite often asked to use internal tools and ITSM platforms, in doing so incident or problem management, but also knowledge management are portrayed according to standardized processes.

This development means a big investment in an ITIL certification for Video Conference Manages Services Providers, who often also have to adapt established processes internally. Many providers simply lack the experience in big ITIL environments.

Companies that look into the possibility of implementing  Video Conference Managed Services in order to operate video conference infrastructures, video conference systems or Video Conference Bridging Services, should take a close look at the potential providers’ technical capacities in IT processes and ITIL frameworks, next to technical expert knowledge and experience with video conferences of course.

Nintendo brings Personal Telepresence to your Living Room

Nintendo and Vidyo announced that the new Nintendo Wii U console will support the Telepresence technology from Vidyo. Users will be able to use their Nintendo Wii U now to make video calls to other players. This Telepresence solution was introduced in November under the name “Wii U Chat” (Video attached below).

The scope of service will be first for point-to-point connections only but it perhaps this can be enhanced to a multi-site-call, similar to the Google Hangout, in the future. This is the first step of bringing enterprise grade Telepresence technology into the homes of families and not only into an enterprise boardroom. This is an important step for Vidyo to take and shows again the success and potential of software-based Telepresence solutions as well as the importance of BYOD. We are excited about this news and hope we see new revelations in the market of Telepresence solutions for consumers soon.

More info:

Videoconference24

Telepresenceoptions

Vidyo


Product presentation with Satoru Iwata & Reggie Fils-Aime

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TZO7wjmz8sA]