Business travel accounts for a huge slice of the annual corporate expenditure of companies, what with company executives having to make periodic visits to distant locales to attend conferences, meet customers and principals for business development or review sessions, plus a host of other reasons.
The use of video can be a powerful means of achieving face-to-face communication with people located in a remote site. It affords huge savings in travel time for individual executives, as well as serves to reduce the burden of expenditure on travel for the organisation as a whole.
Although video-conferencing over the web has been used in the past, the experience has been far from satisfactory, owing to the unsatisfactory quality of transmission. Traditional webconferencing systems involve working with shared documents such as presentations, and stops just short of providing the full fleet of video images that are so crucial to an effective collaborative effort. Reserved bandwidth and individual telephone hook-ups for the audio component are the key requirements of a webconferencing system, which are not easy to achieve, added to which glitches often arise with incompatible desktop technologies.
IPv6 & Video Conferencing
IPv6 with its 128-bit addressing system combines security and authentication, quality of service (reserving bandwidth), plug-and-play for network device configuration, a hierarchically structured routing system, and is thereby ideal for use in IP enabled videoconferencing. Using IPv6 protocol, it is possible to achieve enhanced frame and transmission rate and bandwidth usage.
A breakthrough in IP based video webcasting is now on the agenda with titans like Cisco, Polycom and Hewlett-Packard already on the scene. Video webcasting online affords the much needed impetus to corporate communications, and enables organizations to project a distinctive and highly personalized corporate and brand image.
Telepresence systems deliver high quality interactive video and sound signals that make it seem that users are actually sitting across the table, rather than communicating across different countries. Cisco has launched the much awaited “telepresence” systems using ‘video-collaboration technology that delivers high-definition video images and stereophonic sounds with enough realism to enable useful collaboration to occur.’
When outfitting a corporate office with telepresence equipment, two or more specially equipped conference rooms have to be set apart exclusively for the purpose. Network connectivity is achieved by means of proprietary technology. Apart from well known names like Cisco, lower rung vendors like Teliris and Codian, are also offering telepresence technology and services. The way it works is that high-definition television (HDTV) screens and cameras are cleverly positioned for the best, most realistic impact.
When participants take their seats, the screens are at eye level, and image alignment is tuned to give viewers the feeling of looking into a very wide screen. Viewers in conference will appear to be sitting diagonally across and looking directly at one another, rather than seem to be blankly staring straight ahead. Audio effects are also adjusted to make it seem as if the sound is coming directly from the speaker’s mouth. Telepresence systems thus provide a very ‘real,’ face to face experience and can be a viable alternate to traveling on business. There is good response for this newly launched system of video-based collaboration with membership on the rise.
As of now, installing a telepresence system is an expensive proposition involving the use of specialized equipment including plasma displays, ultra sensitive microphones, surround-sound speakers, and special lighting. The cost of installation of a single-screen Cisco TelePresence system (TelePresence 1000) will work out to $79,000 and for a three-screen system (TelePresence 3000) it would be in the region of $299,000 per room in the current scheme of things. The system runs on the customer’s existing Internet Protocol (IP) network. Major corporations with huge travel expenditures stand to benefit by using telepresence. However, the operating costs are virtually zero. The pricing of VirtuaLive system from Teliris is somewhat similar: a single-screen room costs $60,000, and a four-screen system housed in one room is priced at $250,000, inclusive of network access. Notwithstanding the costs, consumers have found that the price is worth the value it provides, with huge cost savings to be had down the line.
After installing VirtuaLive systems in its London and Illinois headquarters, Tate & Lyle has found it a great cost saver. Making a trip to Decatur costs the company about $25,000 and three days of executive time, and the Teliris system offsets this cost straightaway. Wachovia’s management found it’s staff had to make 15 trips a day between the company’s offices located in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Richmond, Virginia. By using Cisco’s telepresence systems, they were able to directly reduce expenses, increase collaboration among their workforce in different locations, and increase the employee productivity by reducing travel time. The company’s corporate objective of reducing its environmental impact was also met in the process.
Most vendors of telepresence systems use some proprietary technology (for video and other multimedia effects), and some of them operate on proprietary networks. However, Teliris claims that its Telepresence Gateway, allows for interoperability between systems. Currently, VirtuaLive customers can connect to Tandberg and Polycom systems, as well as to existing videoconference (Polycom) and webconferencing technologies (WebEx and Microsoft’s LiveMeeting). It may soon be extended to telepresence systems of Cisco, HP and others. WebConnect is another Teliris offering that allows a participant (located outside the VirtuaLive-equipped site) to join a conference.