Video Conferencing - A Pros And Cons Decision

by : Jason Cox

The downside to videoconferencing exists. Despite its many advantages, it still depends on technology and human interaction. Therefore, errors glitches in technology, and inefficient use of this exist. Video conferencing is a pros and cons decision; once the cons are identified, you can attempt to learn how to troubleshoot these issues.

The desktop videoconferencing industry as a whole has had a few false starts. The main problems up to now have included proprietary hardware and software incompatible software packages, bandwidth constraints, and difficulty of use. Of all these challenges, insufficient bandwidth has been the most prominent. Decent video requires a lot of bandwidth, which means some form of broadband connection. Until recently, the average user did not have access to broadband.

A little understanding how the technology works is the best way to illustrate the downside of videoconferencing. The majority of videoconferences take place over an ISDN or IP-based network in a point-to-point call between two machines or a multipoint call between three or more video endpoints. ISDN calls are usually made at a data rate of 64K, 128K or 384K bit per second using the H.320 protocol. The higher bandwidth used means better call quality. ISDN uses the public switched telephone network and not the Internet. The downside of the technology is that one has to be located at least 18,000 feet from a local phone office. If the distance is further, requiring additional equipment and specialized lines drives up the cost.

IP-based conferencing uses a standard Ethernet connection and the H.323 protocol for connecting endpoints to a network. It is becoming more the standard for videoconferencing. Connection speeds can go as high as 768K bit per second. In the past, it was a dial-up world. Not many people had access to IP technology.

Now, of course, IP is relatively inexpensive and Ethernet connections can be found in most corporate settings. It still has its problems when used with videoconferencing. Network congestion is becoming a major issue. Experts advise planning your videoconferences early in the day when the Internet is least crowded. Alternatively, you can hire a gate keaper. Gatekeepers can be used to reserve and set up conference calls. These services have network backbones dedicated to video conferencing traffic, minimizing the potential disruptions and keep individual call quality high. Keep in mind that flawed connections can create jittery images, dropped calls, delay and other problems in the videoconference. This is particularly true for conferences over the public Internet.

Firewalls are crucial to any companys system. Corporate firewalls may block its traffic coming in or out of the local-area network. Before any videoconferencing can take place, a port must be found to allow the connection to take place.

Another downside of video conferencing is the cost. A connection between conference participants is only part of the equation. The videoconferencing endpoint can also have an impact on the overall call quality. Endpoints range from a pair of $50 web cams connected to PCs running Microsoft NetMeeting to $50,000 boardroom-based systems that have multiple cameras and microphones.

There is cost involved in the service as well. Service providers have network backbones dedicated to videoconferencing traffic, minimizing the potential disruptions. Using a service provider and dedicated lines can provide for a better connection and overall experience, but can be expensive if videoconferencing is only used on a limited basis.

Basically, there are two pricing models. A subscription per month usually ranges from $25 to $150 per month for up to twenty people. There are usually steep fees for setup. The other model is to charge a per minute fee per participant. Rates vary from 12 to 40 cents a minute for local calls. Long distance and international calls of course run much higher. It is decidedly cheaper than business travel, but the monthly fees can be a downside if your organization only holds two or three meetings a year.

Finally, there is the people factor to consider. People must actually attend these meetings, whether in real time or via a taped session. Also, the benefit of person-to-person interaction cannot be duplicated by even the most sophisticated and expensive video conferencing system. A firm handshake, a sincere smile, the easy conversation over a business lunch all go far in establishing trust and cementing good business relations.