With the aggressive transformations in communication technologies, videoconferencing is finding its application in every segment of the economy, becoming a frequent instrument in collaborative communication. Organizations, businesses, and other entities face the challenge of effectively operating distributed offices with short-staffed and overworked IT departments. Tight budgets are also a concern. Despite these concerns, entities strive to expand and reach new markets without increasing overhead by relying on effective communication technology. Morley & Parker (2010) define video conferencing as “the utilization of communications technology to initiate face-to-face and real-time meetings involving individuals located in physically different locations.” The advancement of the video conferencing technology software and online services has been employed by businesses to significantly improve sales, minimize travel and meeting expenses as well as reduce teleconferencing expenses linked to recurring inter-office meetings (Rayler, 2010). Morley & Parker (2009) also highlight that video conferencing and other web technologies are the increasing part of the communication technology power. It is employed by most entities to help them profit from outsourcing opportunities, globalization, and fairly compete with other entities in the respective industries.
All inventions in communication technology must have evolved with room for improvement. The first documented face-to-face video conferencing system was the Picture Phone by AT&T. This was presented at a New York’s fair in the 1960s (Barney, 2011). This technology did not get widespread application since it was too expensive for average clients. Even those who could afford were disappointed due to poor picture quality and ineffective video compression techniques (Shelly, Vermaat, & Quasney, 2013). Since then, video conferencing technology and allied systems have consistently failed to achieve the high hopes offered for their intended function in communication. In early 1960s, it was predicted that people would be able to seamlessly have meetings on their phones or mobile devices. Despite technological advancements in digital communications, these earliest efforts gained widespread application either in working life or at home . The first improvement was registered in 1976 by introduction of network Video Protocol. Further advancement occured in 1980s, when digital transmission and ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network) was available (Packetizer, 2013). High procurement cost and bulkiness of the video conferencing equipment rendered the technology uneconomical in its application in areas such as telemedicine, business meetings, and distance education. In early 90s, several video conferencing systems were available, but the turning point was the introduction of CU-SeeMe system by Macintosh (Packetizer, 2013). This gave a leeway for Microsoft NetMeeting software in 1996.
Other advancements include improvement of signal transmission quality, speed as well as reliability of networks. Improved integration and interoperability between various hardware and software components has also played a role in increasing the use of video conferencing technology. The first HD video conferencing system was produced in May 2005 by Life Size Communications in a trade show in Nevada (Telework Research Network, 2012). As of the March, 2013, developments in HD videoconferencing systems had become popular in the market of videoconferencing. Some of the renowned video conference equipment manufactures include LifeSize, Cisco, Tandberg, Polycom, Sony, and Aethra (Telework Research Network, 2012). These manufacturers are all working using the same protocols; therefore, the systems are able to link various brands. Recently, aggressive developments introduced by video conferencing systems developers directed their attention to hand-held mobile devices. Aspects, such as audio, video and on-screen drawing, have been integrated in mobile devices. Security of real-time transmissions has also been enhanced irrespective of location. Application of video conferencing technology has expanded beyond office meeting environments (Shelly, Vermaat, & Quasney, 2013). A demand for collaboration tools and converged infrastructure has catalyzed development and usage of this technology. Video conferencing is gaining popularity in tactical and non-tactical environments.
The Concept of Video Conferencing Technology
Video conferencing is an audiovisual communication technology that allows people or teams of users to communicate via synchronized broadcasts of audio and visual data. It utilizes audio and video telecommunications to link people at different locations together. Video conferencing systems transmit bidirectional data, audio and video streams during a session. Compression is performed by a software or hardware known as a codec. This leads to a stream of digital data which is divided into packets. Then packets are transmitted to endpoints through the digital network such as ISDN or Internet Protocol (Barney, 2011). Endpoints need a gateway for a link to exist.
Video conferencing can take place via computer and the Internet or via dedicated video conference setup (Enrica & Vladimir, 2012). Dedicated video conferencing systems are those that have all required components incorporated in a single unit, typically a high quality remote video camera connected to a console.Desktop video conferencing systems are the peripherals attached to normal computers to transform them into videoconferencing devices. These add-ons include cameras and microphones having the necessary codec and transmission interfaces.
There are two major types of videoconferencing systems available on the market. They include point-to-point and multipoint videoconferencing. Point-to-point (or P2P) video conferencing is a simple communication limited to two participants or teams in the private offices. It easily implemented, hence being the cheapest type of video conferencing technology (Enrica & Vladimir, 2012). The quality of P2P video conferencing broadcast is superior to multipoint. P2P is also characterized by less chances of lag in signal transmission. Despite this, P2P video conferencing requires that the involved parties use the same type of communication protocol such as an Internet Protocol (IP) or Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) one. Multipoint video conferencing involves several locations in large rooms at multiple sites. Real-time transmission of meeting activities also involves related video conferencing technologies to display shared documents on whiteboards. The most essential device in this type is multipoint control unit (or MCU), which is located at a node of a Local Area Network (LAN) and consists of a multipoint controller (MC) and multipoint processors (MPs).
Current Development/Technology& Industry
Delivery of high quality video conferencing to any business environment is attributed to advanced off-the-shelf webcams, multi-core processors, and transmission technologies. Major video conferencing system developers, such as Cisco, Polycom, and Sony, are reported to conduct experiments in videoconferencing and allied technologies intended to determine the best possible way of using new technology and its vitality at various development stages (Telework Research Network, 2012). Some of the emerging trends are application of videoconferencing, and related communication technologies exist in such fields as telemedicine, tele-surgery, and psychologists conducting online sessions. Other application includes making contact with inmates incarcerated in penitentiaries, astronauts, and resolving airline engineering issues maintenance. As of 2013, the state of this technology could not seamlessly give both image and sound. It was an exchange, and which translates to sacrificing sound to get a good video quality (Telework Research Network, 2012).
Significance of Video Conferencing
Video conferencing technology delivers a number of benefits to most organizations. Technology analysts, customers, and value-added resellers (VARs) indicate that it increases productivity among distributed workforces and project teams. This is the most tangible effect of using video conferencing. If it is well panned and effectively implanted, this technology has significant impact on the way people manage business and the productivity gains they can derive. Video conferencing systems provide a platform for sharing easily any kind of information,thus fostering fast decision making, which is a critical success factor in this knowledge driven economy. This translates to availing products or services to the market quicker, consequently enabling an entity to stay ahead of competitors in current dynamic markets.
In addition, video conferencing helps to save money.Despite the fact that productivity increases as a result of implementing this technology, actual savings are realized when travel costs are reduced. Video conferencing has become a prerequisite for leveraging new market opportunities, thereby eliminating frequent travels as today’s globalized market dictates. In the current business environment, where the safety and time-related issues with traveling are a concern to many employees, video conferencing technology eliminates such concerns. Travel related issues include insurance policies, security threat in volatile airspaces or war torn environments. Furthermore, this technology can help increase the profits of organizations, while reducing the cost of physical conferences. A study entitled “Benchmarking the Benefits of Videoconferencing Deployments” by Polycom (2013) indicated that video conferencing save 30% on travel cost. This confirms that video conferencing can be used as a travel alternative.
Besides increased productivity and reduced costs, video conferencing technology can be used to achieve efficiency in time management. Video conferencing used to bring products to the market quicker (Rayler, 2010). Outstanding examples are the reduction of lateness and shortening hire cycles for key employees. By using video conferencing, small and medium sized businesses averagely shrink recruitment times by 15%, whereas large enterprises shrink by 19% (Barney, 2011). Rayler (2010) highlights the ipmortance of video conference tecbnology in improving hiring and retention of key talents in an organisation. This is subject to the fact that “hiring employees is a costly venture in terms of time and money, particularly when the potential candidates are situated in several locations or when several individuals are supposed to take part in the interview” (Polycom, 2013). Polycom (2013) further highlights that “organizations that have installed video conferencing systems in their workplaces can cut monetary expenses and time by bringing candidates into the nearest facility and allowing interviews to be conducted both in person and over video.”. This study proves that video conferencing has only positive impact on the employee retention. For examples, the team spirit is improved by eliminating the geographical gap between dispersed staff and helping its members to have a healthy work/life balance through minimizing travels. As a result, they spend valuable time with their families and the impact of commuting is eased. Most hardware and software vendors provide their clients with a central stop for contact for video conferencing. Examples include Oracle and Cisco. Through video conferencing, factory-trained sales and technical staff can save the time they would have spent travelling by conducting online sales and training on various product. Time is also saved in the sense that personal visits and telephone calls are enhanced (Polycom, 2013).
Video conferencing also ensures that information is transmitted quickly among relevant parties leading to faster decision making. According to a research conducted by Polycom (2013) concerning the benefits of video conferencing, the results indicated that, in both large enterprises and small scale businesses, video conferencing reduces time to market by 24%. It can also be employed as an effective tool for enhancing maintenance and repair processes within reasonable time frames.
Video conferencing is a support for environmental initiatives. It serves as one of the green technologies. According to Polycom (2009), video conferencing allows organizations to mitigate energy use by dramatically reducing the need to travel. The argument is that, by implementing video conferencing, organizations considerably minimize their carbon footprint and help ensure a basis for regulatory compliance. Research of Polycom (2013) also adds that human resources and public relations departments in an organization can embark on video conferencing to adopt an environment friendly business model, which is increasingly becoming a tool for competitiveness.
Finally, video conferencing technology helps organizations to sustain competitive advantage in today’s globalised economy. One aspect of this observation is that knowledge is widely shared among the teams, resulting in faster and more informed decisions that shrink the time to market for new products and services (Polycom, 2013). Support teams use video conferencing to create and maintain more personal or closer relationships with their clients. Consequently, customer satisfaction and loyalty is achieved. Video conferencing enables sale executives to meet more clients, faster, and at less expense in new and distant markets (Rayler, 2010).
Limitations of Video Conferencing
According to Shelly, Vermaat, & Quasney (2013), “The poor quality of images received in videoconferencing is also tiring for interpreters and more likely to cause eyestrain and increased tension than using monitors in booths under local conditions”. The widespread adoption of video conferencing is still relatively low due to several reasons. Some video conferencing systems are complex. Thus, they need to establish and use some technical background. Successful implemented video conferencing system owe to the fact that they were supported by the teams from vendors. The difference in standards used by manufacturers also leads to interoperability and integration problem of hardware or software from various vendors (Rayler, 2010). This translates to the need of additional configuration when connecting to the systems of different standards. Video conferencing relies on bandwidth and quality of service for good-quality video conferencing (Morley & Parker, 2010).
Video conferencing is finding its place in business environments. In spite of its immense benefits, it cannot be considered as the final solution to reduce the expenses and traveling time for the international conferences. Therefore, it is extremely important to comprehend the limitations and benefits of videoconferencing in order to apply it in the best possible way. Polycom (2013) theorizes that “at least half of global communication is visual and that seeing is believing.” This shows that an organization is more productive and efficient when there is close contact among colleagues, partners, and clients. Traveling connected with meeting the clients, partners or colleagues is costly, time consuming, and can delay critical decisions. The key saving areas by using video conferencing include sales, travel, downtime, recruiting, time to market, and training. As of March 2013, video conferencing was well established within a growing number of major business oriented entities for its high end facilities. Video conferencing is also gaining application in recruitment interviews, in house business presentations, product training for employees and clients, sales representations and product launches, design and creative assessment, project liaison business to business consultancy services, and casting for television production. There is also a growing trend in integrating video conference functionalities in mobile devices to increase mobility. It is projected that video conferencing system manufacturers will provide and enhance mobile applications, such as software, that will permit live and still image streaming.Video conferencing technology will continue to evolve to a level that it becomes an intrinsic part of both personal life and business. The technology is undergoing subsequent transformation and there is no doubt that it will become affordable and ubiquitous.