Video conferencing has become an essential part of a modern businesses technology toolbox. It allows for greater productivity, more intimate meetings with clients hundreds or even thousands of miles away and significantly reduces travel costs. Not surprisingly, there has been an explosion in the number of companies offering video conferencing services. So which one should you choose?
It depends on your needs, the capabilities of the people on the other end of the line and the type of experience you want to offer. Of course all of these affect budget.
There are three main types of services currently on the market:
- Cloud video conferencing
- IP video conferencing
- Hybrid/bridge conferencing
All require hardware, software and high-speed internet access to function.
Cloud Video Conferencing Services $
Cloud-based solutions were around long before the cloud was cool. These services take the need for physical video encoders off your shoulders and capital budgets and utilize the computing power of the cloud and their proprietary software to serve up the video, audio and slides/screens of participants.
These services tend to be the most economical of the bunch, one of the benefits of the economies of scale provided by drawing on cloud computing. Some products in this category include Fuze Meeting, Cisco's Webex and Citrix's GoToMeeting. Also in this category are free services such as Skype and FaceTime. They are easy to set up, but be careful to select the level of service that includes video, as many have starter packages that only allow for the sharing of audio, computer screens and slides. In most cases you can be up and running in less than an hour.
Computer, webcam, high speed Internet service and about $25
- Adobe Connect Cisco
- Citrix GoToMeeting
- Skype (including Skype Group Video)
- Apple's Face Time
IP Video Conference System $$$$$
This is the type of video conferencing you see in movies, where business partners are beamed in from around the globe and everyone's head appears on their own plasma TV. In the early 90's this was the exclusive domain of governments, large corporations and secret spy agencies (we assume). But, in recent years a number of new market entrants have helped to bring the costs down, if only a little bit. Many corporations, large and small, have found the value that they can provide.
The critical element of this solution is the encoder (sometimes called the codec). This is the device that usually looks similar in size to a DVD player, it compresses your video and audio and beams it across the Internet while at the same time receiving the video from the other participant. Most of these devices can also simultaneously transmit slides if a computer has been plugged into it. Most can handle more than one remote connection.
In my opinion, these systems produce the best quality video, which means you will look more professional on these systems. Over the phone, those on the end of the line can't judge your sincerity or trustworthiness based on your appearance, as they will when they can see you.
The costs typically starts around $5,000 for a very basic solution and can reach into the hundreds of thousands if you want to recreate the pentagon briefing room you saw in that recent blockbuster. If you do a high number of video conferences between business partners, this can actually become quite economical because once you get past the initial investment the ongoing costs are minimal. But, keep in mind that in most cases both participants require a IP video conferencing machine. If one side doesn't have one then you they can always find a video conference room which typically rent for between $100 to $300 per hour depending on location and number of participants.
TIP: The OBA's conference centre in downtown Toronto is a very affordable video-conferencing venue where members can rent video conference equipment and facilities.
IP video conference encoder, compatible camera, tech savvy staff person, high speed Internet and a good business case
- Cisco(formally Tanberg)
Hybrid/Bridge Systems $$$
There are many companies that will "bridge" video conferences together, but the one that really stands out is bluejeans.com. As the name suggested, they are pretty relaxed about what you use to connect to the video conference. Whether you have a state-of-the-art, quarter million-dollar Polycom video conference room or a Blackberry running Skype, this system will bring everyone together.
While it shares many of the characteristics of the cloud based systems discussed earlier, it costs quite a bit more (monthly subscriptions start at $199/month). This is probably best for companies with sophisticated video conferencing installations that plan on connecting with clients and road warriors who may not have access to a video conference room.
A camera, microphone, any device capable of streaming video and, while the name is bluejeans, you may still want to wear that business suit to your video conference
Many, but bluejeans.com has the coolest vibe.
About the Author
Jonathan Clancy is the OBA's Director of Information Technology