In the olden days, you needed an ISDN connection and a specialized room that was outfitted with a camera, microphones, and a display of some kind. You also needed an operator to set up your conferencing facility–one who had some knowledge on how ISDN worked. You also needed compatible equipment at both ends. In most cases, the VC equipment would be installed in a conferencing room and cost quite a lot, sometimes running to over $100,000. Since this kind of investment is high, some enterprising people also set up service centers that had all the needed equipment as well as multiple ISDN connections. When you need to conference with someone, you fix a time, go to the nearest service center, and have your call.
When PCs and laptops started coming out with built-in cameras and speakers, the horizon changed completely. You now had a device that could video conference from your desk. But, you still needed to connect the PC or laptops onto an ISDN connection. This was not easy, and needed additional wiring in the office. All attempts to roll out desktop based ISDN failed completely.
With the entrance of IP, packets-based communications became a reality. In 1995, the International Telecommunication Union defined a number of standards for multimedia communication over packet (IP) networks. H.323 standard, SIP, MGCP and MEGACO have been defined as additional protocols that have recently come out to carry rich media over IP.
Now, if you have a computer or laptop connected to the Internet, you can initiate and execute a video conference. You don’t need any ISDN number, and you don’t need to remember any details of the party you are calling. All you have to do was to have that person’s name and/or picture on your PC application. Using the appropriate application, simply search for the contact and click on his or her name. That is all you need to do. The video conferencing partner on the other end will answer your call, and you can start video conferencing with each other.
Trends in Video Conferencing
Let’s look at some of the trends in video conferencing.
- Technical developments have extended the capabilities of video conferencing systems beyond the conferencing room to the PC, and now to the handheld mobile device.
- Conferencing room equipment prices have fallen to under $1000. This consists of a wide-angle camera, microphone unit for the table, and a codec unit. Equipment that can link 100s of participants in one session has now fallen under $5000.
- Technologies from other areas have trickled down to video conferencing, as well. One in particular is in the area of display. The technologies used in high definition TVs are also used in video conferencing systems. The same is true of cameras—handheld cameras have the capability of shooting 1080p video, and this technology has been introduced in the VC arena.
- Education is a taking a lead with over 42% of students in the US using some form of VC for school-related activities. Nearly 10% of these students use VC every week.
- Virtual classrooms are becoming a reality with institutions starting to host complete classes for free including topics on health care, judicial systems, data analysis, neuroscience, etc.
- Scientists have started using VC in real earnest. The Geneva-based CERN, for example, uses 300 sessions a day for over 20,000 scientists who are affiliated with CERN.
- In 2013, US companies spent over $2.6 billion on video conferencing equipment.
- In health care, video conferencing is becoming a regular activity. Doctors routinely confer with other doctors and specialists, even during an operation.
- Browser-based or software-based video conferencing systems are becoming popular. All that a user needs are a webcam, microphone, speakers, and a high-speed Internet connection. All these are common to most desktops, tablets, laptops and smartphones.
- Major areas that are getting impacted with video conferencing are government and law entities, where testimony through a VC connection is now legal. In education, distance education has become quite common. In health care, video conferencing has become very useful in real-time telemedicine applications such as diagnosis, consulting, and even training. In business, video conferencing is making a distributed workforce a reality.
We will be discussing more about video conferencing in detail in the near future.