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Introduction:

Advances in computer technology such as faster processors and better data compression algorithms enabled the integration of audio and video data into the computing environment. Today videoconferencing can be achieved by adding software and relatively inexpensive hardware to standard desktop computers. Such systems, also, have the ability to easily incorporate data from other desktop computer applications into the conference.

The technology of video conferencing has advanced rapidly in recent years. Picture and sound quality of large room-based systems are reasonable and the costs of installing and running them have dropped so that they are now becoming a realistic option for institutions teaching or planning to teach across more than one site.

The growth of network technology and in particular the Internet has led to a greater awareness of the potential of conferencing systems for teaching, collaborative work, assessment and student support. Video conferencing is one example of a synchronous conferencing system, that is one that takes place in real time between individuals or groups who are usually separated geographically. Asynchronous conferencing systems, such as bulletin boards, do not require participants to be connected at the same time.

Video conferencing systems can be broadly grouped into three categories:

·         Room based or 'studio' systems designed for use by from perhaps five participants up to a lecture theatre or even a large conference;

·         Roll about systems, designed to enable the system to be portable. Typically these systems are designed for small group use;

·         Desktop based systems designed for individual or small group use.

We can further distinguish between point to point systems where two sites are linked and multi-point systems where one main site is linked to a number of sites simultaneously.

Uses of Video Conferencing:

Video conferencing is used for a variety of purposes, including:

·         Personal communication. Informal communication would normally use desk top systems. More formal meetings with several participants at each site would probably use dedicated studio settings.

·         Collaborative work between researchers using shared applications

·         Presentations

·         Education. Teaching usually involves one to many connections. The student sites may receive audio and video but only send audio.

Video Conferencing is very useful whenever there is a clear communication need, and the benefits described by those using video conferencing systems include:

·         reduced travel costs

·         face to face rather than telephone meetings

·         better quality teaching

·         easier collaborative working 

A Business-ready Technology

Videoconferencing started as a plaything of big business houses. Its importance as a value add-on is now being realised by medium sized Indian businesses and export houses. Some of the heavy users include ICICI Bank, ISRO, Birla Management, SPIC, Essar ICI, VSNL and the Reliance Group. As T.N. Sundar, country manager (India), PictureTel, says: "The Indian user community has started responding to videoconferencing, and more importantly to visual collaboration as a value enhancing proposition that saves executive time, enhances decision making speed and customer satisfaction."

More than corporate awakening, price reductions and technological improvements are helping disseminate the technology. What are those?

First, standards have been agreed to which enable videoconferencing systems to "talk to each other." Add to that user-friendliness and segmentation of the systems. Most organisations benefit from a mix of desktop, group and compact systems. Key people get desktop systems in their offices; conference rooms get group systems for shared use; and compact systems fill in wherever they are needed. The earlier inconvenience of using a dedicated videoconferencing studios is thus removed.

Second, ISDN has become more widely available. ISDN is the only pay-as-you-use-it network that has enough bandwidth to carry a videoconferencing channel. Pushing growth concomitantly is the decrease in leased line tarriff. MTNL and DOT have already implemented ISDN service in 12 cities; Mumbai has 1,200 subscribers. "In India too, around 30 percent of ISDN subscribers are going in for videoconferencing," Sundar adds.

Third factor: videoconferencing technologies have managed to compress the amount of bandwidth required for video and enable acceptable quality bandwidth at lower bandwidths. Most importantly, the steep fall in prices is bringing quality PC systems to less than Rs 2.5 lakh range; compact systems which work with an ordinary TV within Rs 5 lakh; and even small group systems with monitors to well under Rs 7 lakh. But high import duties on videoconferencing products are still a major hindrance to growth.

 State Acceptance

At its current size of Rs 25 to 30 crore, the Indian videoconferencing market is projected to go up by over 50 percent by the end of this year. About 70 percent of the equipment sold last year went towards group and compact systems; the remaining towards desktops and LAN-based systems. With 250 videoconferencing systems working throughout the country, PictureTel claims to have cornered over 85 percent of the videoconferencing market with its SwiftSite II and LiveLan-VO1-EB suites. Other players include Intel with its ProShare Video System 150 and 200, Philips' MatchView 330 and 430.

Video conferencing is finding acceptance with State governments too. The Andhra Pradesh government has started using videoconferencing in a limited way. Beginning June, the AP State Wise Area Networks is slated to go on stream. "With 23 districts connected to the State capital, the technology will have a salutary effect on the functioning of the government," Sundar says. Soon Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra governments will follow suit. While rising corporate use could open the market, State level acceptance could launch the quantum leap.

Videoconferencing cuts costs and raises productivity. But it has other applications.

Managing the Global Company-Videoconferencing helps large multinationals operate in truly worldwide environments, facilitate communications between individual sites, groups and divisions.

Facilitating New Working Practices-Video- and data-conferencing enables virtual teamworking. Geographically dispersed peer groups, such as engineers or product designers can be brought together at short notice.

Access to Remote Expertise-Faults in manufacturing facilities can be quickly identified and fixed.

Increased Competitive Advantage-Helps achieve faster time to market and "steal a march" on the competition.


Supply Chain Management-Fosters effective working relationships among partner companies, suppliers and customers.

 Cost-Benefit Checklist

Deploying new technology has its own problems. The biggest being how long is the payback period. Specially, if the sites are very few or of recent origin. However, if your company intends to deploy VC across its sites, here is a brief checklist of the cost and benefit components to give you a broad idea about the payback period.

COSTS: This can be broadly divided into four major heads.

ROOM COST: This will include construction of new rooms as well as modifying existing rooms.

EQUIPMENT COST: This will include the cost of codec, moni- tors, document stands, white boards, extra monitors or broadcast media, audio, cabling, lighting, furnishings, WAN/ LAN equipment, software.

INSTALLATION COST: Installation cost will include ISDN or leased line for WAN, NICs or hub/switch, ports cost for LAN, other equipment and software installation costs, training cost for end users and IS staff maintenance.

RECURRING COST: This will include monthly charges for WAN connectivity, ongoing training costs, personnel hours specific to VG, service contracts and software upgrades and finally the fees and cost associated with failed conferences.

BENEFITS The biggest saving which can be easily quantified is the travel-related saving. While savings from airline tickets are usually the easiest to calculate for any organization others are more elusive. For example, hotel expenditure may vary greatly, often depending on the job function of the person. Another aspect though not easily quantified is the value of time saved as a result of reduced travel.

But do your own analysis and check with vendors like PictureTel and Philips before embarking on the VC journey.

In Depth of VC Technology: 

Video conferencing actually encompasses a range of technologies used in a wide range of situations, often it is not just video and audio that is transmitted, but also data, allowing collaborative working though shared applications. Video conferencing may be:-

·         One-to-one meetings, also known as point to point communications, usually involving full two-way audio and video.

·         One-to-many involving full audio and video broadcast from the main site, where other sites may be able to send audio. For example in a lecture situation, students could ask questions.

·         Many-to-many, known as multi-point communication, provides audio and video between more than two sites. With most multi-point systems only one site in a conference can be seen at time, with switching between sites either controlled manually or voice activated (i.e., the loudest site is on screen).

Physically, the most common scenarios of video conferencing are:

·         Desktop video conferencing - usually a small camera is located on top of the PC or workstation monitor. The actual video is usually displayed in a small window, and shared applications, such as a shared whiteboard are often used.

·         Studio-based Systems - a studio is specially equipped for video conferencing. This will normally include one or more cameras, microphones, one or more large monitors, and possibly other equipment such as an overhead camera for document viewing. Usually used for more formal meetings In practice a 'studio' may not be a dedicated room, but a standard seminar room with portable equipment that can be set up when required.

The role of sound is critical in the success of video conferencing. Poor sound quality can limit or even ruin the effectiveness of a video conferencing session far more than can a poor picture. With some systems, if you talk over a speaker you cut that speaker off. In these cases it is important that all participants understand and follow the etiquette of "taking it in turns". Whispers or what are intended to be private comments or remarks can also be picked up and transmitted.

Bandwidth and Video Compression: For system administrators, the basic dilemma in adding manageable video-conferencing to an intranet is balancing the speed and quality of video and sound with taxing bandwidth requirements. Although it is extremely difficult to measure the bandwidth needed to transmit audio and video on the Internet, the amount is recognized as being high. To alleviate bandwidth constraints, network administrators can increase bandwidth or improve compression methods.

The higher bandwidth communications channels, such as ISDN (Integrated Switched Digital Network), Ethernet, Fast Ethernet, or ATM (Asynchronous Transfer Mode) are ideal for supporting video-conferencing. The most important consideration is selecting a circuit switch setup, which will accommodate the continuous stream of data necessary for video-conferencing applications.

The bandwidth, or baud rate, is the amount of information, which can be transmitted every second. The higher the bandwidth, the better quality the signal that can be transmitted. For a video conference audio and video signals must be transmitted in real time, i.e., a lot of information has to be sent every second, requiring a very high bandwidth. For example a 'true colour' image will need 24 bits (3 bytes) per pixel. A full screen image might be 640x480 pixels, over 7 million bits. For full motion video, the image is refreshed 25 times per second. This adds to over 184 million bits per second. It is not realistically possible to transmit this amount of information, and your PC certainly could not receive it at this rate. Therefore for digital video some form of compression is required. The type and degree of compression used varies from system to system. It is interesting to note that for most uses, we are more tolerant of poor video than poor audio, and so some systems concentrate on providing consistently good audio.

Standards: Most major vendors now support the H.320 suite of ITU recommendations that define videoconferencing mechanisms over switched digital services such as ISDN. Similar recommendations have also been defined for high-speed wide area networks (H.321), isochronous networks (H.322), packet-switched local area networks (H.323) and POTS phone lines (H.324).

Delivery: ISDN:- Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN) is offered by many telephone companies that provides fast, high-capacity digital transmission of voice, data, still images and full-motion video over the worldwide telephone network.

In the UK service providers such as British Telecom and Cable and Wireless offer basic and primary rate ISDN services.

Basic rate services provide 2 65kbit/s data channels or B channels, and one control or D channel. This can provide reasonable quality video conferencing, delivering about 10 frames per second (fps) for a small window (160x120).

Primary rate access can carry 30 B channels, and one or D channel. This level of access will give very good quality video and audio. B.T.'s primary rate service is now ISDN 30 I.421, bringing it into line with the rest of Europe. Support is still provided for ISDN 30 DASS, B.T.'s own British Standard, and switching between the two is available. It should be noted that primary rate services in non-European countries such as the USA and Japan usually use 23 data channels and one D channel, giving them a lower bandwidth.

ISDN is rapidly growing in popularity and is widely accepted in industry as the way to access multimedia over a network. Although it is still expensive when compared to a standard line, particularly for primary rate access, it may be suitable for inter-site conferencing.

IP: Video conferencing systems based on IP rather than ISDN offer several advantages, the main one being that many people already have a connection to an existing IP infrastructure. Codecs supporting the H.323 standard are widely available, some of which are free, making an IP based system the cheapest solution in many cases. The main disadvantage is bandwidth.

Though often not a problem on an internal Local Area Network (LAN), IP videoconferencing across the Internet can be subject to many delays, producing a poor frame rate (1 or 2 fps) and often unacceptable quality audio.

Satellite broadcast : Satellite transmission is usually used for one-to-many conferences, as described for cable. Although it is expensive, cost is not affected by distance, and therefore it may be of use where very large distances or many sites are involved.

Server Issues: Video-conferencing applications use the UDP (User Datagram Protocol) for sending streams of information, rather than packets of information. This protocol passes the responsibility of ensuring packet reliability to the application.

Therefore, the protocol is better able to manage the dynamic data feeds required for video-conferencing. The UDP Protocol also ensures that new information has precedence over confirming what was already sent; instead of checking to see that every packet has been received. The Protocol places a higher priority on maintaining a steady flow of new information. This method of operation is important because lost packets of video will not interrupt the user's understanding of the information being transmitted in the way that lost packets of text or audio will. In the case of video, it is crucial to keep new information flowing and less important to allocate resources for error-checking applications.

Exploring the Mediums: Although the mediums required to transmit VC are available in the country yet the hiccups exist. For a make- do quality VC, a 128Kbps link, will suffice but for a high quality VC, it is better to have a 364Kbps link.

The question is whether such bandwidth resources are available within organizations. Since VC systems can use LAN, WAN or an intranet environment to exchange data, given the current state of cabling structure the network can handle only a low quality VC. However, to fully exploit all the features of VC the network backbones need to increase in capacity, perhaps with the help of fiber op- tic. This has been one of the key reasons for the slow growth of VC solutions. So if any organization thinks of the VC option, it needs to take into account the pipe available with it.

VSATs: V SAT is another alternative available for corporates. The biggest advantage about VSATs especially given India's vast terrain is remote connectivity. However in India, this may take some time as the cost of VSATs is comparatively high and is therefore a big deterrent. According to Subroto Mukerjee, Marketing Man- ager, HCL Comnet, "VC based on VSATs is viable to those companies who already have their V SAT infra- structure in place. Else it is still a long way for VC on VSATs to go." Adds Parikh, "We want to deploy our VC solution on VSATs. We are waiting to resolve a few issues before that."

INTERNET: Internet is an interesting medium to explore in deploying VC. According to Peter Geier, President of the worldwide ISDN association, who was recently in India to promote ISDN technology, "Our research says the maximum speed on the internet is less than 100Kbps." Such speed can theoretically handle only low quality VC and is useless for business-to- business applications. Moreover, internet is a packet-based network rather than a circuit-based network like the ISDN. Since packet networks were designed to carry data traffic, which is bursty in nature, corporates are hesitant to use it for VC. Since data is sent in chunks (packets) across the network, it can be lost or retransmitted and is subject to delay. Moreover the sequencing and timing of packet delivery is not necessarily guaranteed. Traffic levels fluctuate and there is no concept of fixed and constant bandwidth. If these short- comings for transmitting time-sensi- tive information can be overcome, packet-based networks have the potential to offer more conferencing functionality than circuit-switched networks. However as of now, internet is a strict no-no.

Computer system requirements:

ü       486DX/66 8 MB RAM
Connectix QuickCam with serial port digitizer
Microphone and Speaker
Sound card with 8-bit sound (SoundBlaster 16 recommended)
8-bit video with 640-480 resolution

Install the client software on each system, and test the software configuration by using one of the public reflectors. When connecting to a public reflector, keep in mind that most reflectors do not allow connections at rates greater than 80 Kbps.

Desk Top Video Conferencing

The basic hardware components are:

·         Camera, usually attached to the top of the monitor

·         Microphone

·         Speakers - even where speakers are built in to a workstation, external ones will provide better quality audio. Alternatively headphones may be useful, particularly in a shared office.

·         Video board - to capture the signal from the camera and convert it to digital form

·         Network card - usually an Ethernet card for connection to the LAN, or an ISDN card

There is a very wide range of software available, some of which is described in the SIMA reports 'A Study into Video Conferencing Using the Apple Macintosh Platform' and 'The Dos and Don'ts of Video conferencing in Higher Education' . The usefulness of any particular system will depend on the kind of tasks it is expected to perform, e.g., are shared applications are required, very good video, very good audio?

When using LANs, full screen full motion video (25fps) will not normally be possible. The software will incorporate some kind of codec to compress the video. The level of compression can be up to 100:1, though the higher the level of compression, the lower the quality, and the quality will be much lower if there is a lot of movement. Even at high levels of compression, full screen video may not be possible. LANs were not designed to handle the constant bandwidth necessary for good video conferencing, but more 'bursty' data, which does not require real time transmission or synchronisation, and as the traffic on the LAN increases video conferencing may become unusable.

Multicast is one solution allowing many to many conferences over bursty networks. Multicast means that data is only sent once, but can be received by every participant, so only one channel is required regardless of the number of participants. The Multicast Backbone (MBONE) allows video conferencing to take place over the Internet. MBONE is known as a virtual network because physically it shares the same media as the Internet, using routers that can support multicast. Audio and video are compressed and they must still compete with other traffic on parts of the network, so the quality of MBONE video conferencing is limited.

Examples

Desktop video conferencing using Apple Macintosh computers and the CUSeeMe program is being used at the University of Derby. The computers are mainly connected over a LAN with a 64K Internet connection. The system is used to link students with tutors, small group meetings between different sites, and informal contact between dispersed colleagues. Livenet at the University of London provides videoconferencing to several of its colleges over three ISDN 2 lines. A range of equipment allows the system to be used for one to one meetings through to lectures.

Staff at the Council for the Central Laboratory of the Research Councils hold regular meetings between two remote sites at Daresbury Laboratory in Cheshire and Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire, using SuperJANET. Since staff from the two sites need to meet regularly this arrangement saves a great deal in travel time and costs.

A directory of UK education users of desktop videoconferencing is maintained at: http://www.ncet.org.uk/project/vcdirectory/

Implications

It is likely that the use of video conferencing will continue to increase over the next few years. PCs and workstations often have many of the components of a video conferencing system built in, and networks, particularly internal ones, will be better able to cope with the increased traffic. These factors, and others such as increased travel problems and financial restraints will encourage the uptake of video conferencing to provide remote lecturers, remote seminars and courses, distance learning and telecommuting.

Apart from technological aspects, there are a number of other factors that affect the success of a video conference. It is necessary to be aware of the conventions used in a conference, how to ask questions or interrupt, how to switch site and so on. Although many of the conventions may be those used in traditional face to face meetings, the environment is slightly different, and some training will be required. In particular teaching staff will need to learn an additional set of skills to use video conferencing facilities. Different strategies for presenting material and encouraging student interaction will be required.

Without training the video conferencing systems will be under used. Therefore there will be an increasing need for courses on using the basic video conferencing hardware and software, and on presentation skills.

What Is Real-Time Video-Conferencing?

Once symbolic of the space age, communicating both voice and video in real time has become a realistic option for many clients. Whereas early "room based" models required participants to gather in a conference room equipped with cameras and look at monitors displaying similar rooms at remote sites, the desktop model works more like a telephone call, allowing participants to call up the other participants from their own PCs. Vendors, such as PictureTel and Intel, introduced desktop video-conferencing systems that use regular phone lines about five years ago; however, these proprietary systems can be extremely cost-prohibitive to set up and maintain. By comparison, the use of TCP/IP over Ethernet LANs provides a favorable environment for applications that require the simultaneous transmission of audio and video. The intranet environment offers more bandwidth than solutions that run over regular phone lines. Unlike with the Internet, the network operator of a corporate intranet can control the type of connection between desktops using video-conferencing applications, which makes performance levels more manageable and predictable.

This wave of Internet communications began to attract attention when Cornell University released the CU-SeeMe program as freeware for the Macintosh in 1993. The program allows users to conduct point-to-point communications, group conferencing, and broadcasting with audio and video over the Internet. Since its release, more than a half million individual users have downloaded CU-SeeMe for recreational and educational purposes. More recently, commercialized versions of CU-SeeMe, such as the enhanced version offered by a company called White Pine, are making it a viable means of business communication. Now, the corporate intranet provides a fertile territory for real-world business applications of video-conferencing over both local and wide area networks.

The basic parts of a video-conferencing system include video, audio, a whiteboard, a running application, and encoding software. Video requires a camera and video capture board; audio requires a microphone and speakers or headphones. Almost all commercial software offers a "whiteboard" function to display graphs, images, text, and documents, or to write on shared applications. Finally, software encodes and compresses the signal and then transmits the signal to remote sites.

The key limiting factor in video-conferencing is bandwidth consumption. Bandwidth is the amount of information per unit of time that a particular transmission medium can handle. Sending audio and video through any communications channel requires an enormous amount of bandwidth. To avoid a bottleneck, system administrators need to consider carefully the issues raised later in this chapter that relate to compression standards, server hardware and software requirements, and client packages.

Serving Video-Conferences on an Intranet

Do you need a video-conferencing component built into your intranet? Probably not; however, it could save considerable time and money to provide for video-conferencing while you are planning your intranet strategy. As the technology improves, you might decide that video-conferencing is an essential tool, and you won't want to change your entire hardware setup to support it. Fortunately, the latest generation of browsers and server software is bundling support of live media. Netscape Navigator already provides its LiveMedia structure to send audio and video from within the browser.

If you have decided to implement video-conferencing over your corporate intranet, you should consider these initial steps for setting it up. First, you should start with a very small test group. Try beginning with no more than 10 clients for the first pilot project. Second, refer to the table provided to get an idea of the products that work on PCs and Macs. Third, be sure that each pilot desktop has the following components:

After the clients are configured and tested, it's time to tackle the server side of the operation. CU-SeeMe's reflector software is written in C code and can be compiled and installed on various UNIX platforms, including, among others, Solaris, SGI, BSD, FreeBSD, and OSF-1. This software is also available for Windows NT and Windows 95. The reflector can be configured quickly in UNICAST mode, which allows for point-to-point conferencing. More time and experience, however, are required to set up the reflector in MULTICAST mode.

Implications of Video-Conferencing Over the Internet

Although the Video Phone has been around for many years, only recently has this method of communication been seriously entertained by system administrators for business communications. Proponents of video-conferencing over the Internet think that it could ultimately replace the telephone as the primary means of business communication; however, compression and bandwidth issues are still stumbling blocks for successful implementation of the technology in corporate intranets. Video-conferencing technologies are likely to improve along the same timeline as technologies for increasing bandwidth are developed and implemented.

Client Hardware and Software Packages

Various packages of hardware and software for video-conferencing over the Internet are available from vendors including White Pine, Automated Management Systems, Connetix, Insoft (Netscape), and BBN Systems and Technologies. Table 33.1 summarizes many of these products.

Table 33.1. Video-conferencing products.

Product

Mac

PC

UNIX

Company

Phone

Web

Notes

Price

CU-SeeMe

Y

Y

N

White Pine

(603) 886-9050

www.cu-seeme.com

 

$69.95

CoolView*

N

Y

N

Netscape (Insoft)

(415) 327-2555

www.home.netscape.com or www.insoft.com

 

 

Picture-Window

N

N

Y

BBN

(800) 422-2359

www.bbn.com

 

$495

CineVideo

N

Y

N

Cinecom

(703) 680-4733

www.cinecom.com

 

$39.95

FreeVue

N

Y

N

N/A

N/A

www.freevue.com

 

Free

Video Phone

Y

Y

N

VIC Hi-Tech

(310) 643-5193

www.connectix.com

Not TCP/IP

$249

*Will be bundled with Netscape Navigator.

White Pine offers its enhanced CU-SeeMe software for Windows, Windows 95, Macintosh, and Power Macintosh. Users can have up to eight participant windows and an unlimited number for audio and talk windows. The caller ID feature is a message alert box for incoming connections. It provides a whiteboard for collaboration during conferences and supports multiple users. White Pine offers Mosaic browser support for direct launch of CU-SeeMe from its Web page. It also allows for selectable audio compression algorithms with 100 ms and 50 ms sampling settings: 2.4 Kbps and 8.5 Kbps audio codecs to support 14.4 Kbps and 28.8 Kbps modem connections; and 16 Kbps and 32 Kbps codecs for higher bandwidth connections. Additional features include support of 24-bit true color and 4-bit gray scale; a phone book for saving, adding, and editing participant addresses and reflector sites; standard and high-resolution settings for video compression; and password, caller ID, and other conference and inbound call security. Installation is relatively simple and user-friendly with TCP/IP network software.

Another vendor, Connectix, initially produced only computer-mounted cameras for the Mac and PCs; however, it now bundles video-conferencing software with the cameras. Insoft (now owned by Netscape) offers CoolTalk and CoolView software products designed for Windows 95. These products have been designed right into that Netscape browser so that users do not need to leave the browser to use the video-conferencing client. The disadvantage of using these products is that all participants in the call must have the company's software installed. At this time, Insoft has no plans to release similar products for the Mac.

BBN Systems and Technologies recently released PictureWindow, a software package that allows workstation users to hold video conferences over existing IP networks. The product uses Sun's VideoPix frame-capture board and a video camera to bring video-conferencing to a color or gray-scale SPARCstation. The software retails for about $495 per workstation; a PictureWindow package, including software, a frame grabber, and a color camera, is available for $1,495. For the first release, the company offers a receive-only version of the software at no cost. The software can be used in either point-to-point or multicast mode. The multicast option allows for an unlimited number of receive-only stations, which could be ideal for some training courses or company-wide presentations. The frame rate is generally about three to six frames per second, depending on the system and the network. The product functions best with network paths of at least 256 Kbps, but it can be used with bandwidths as low as 56 Kbps by accepting a lower frame rate and quality.

In addition to these vendors, some of the leaders in the market for desktop video-conferencing over regular phone lines, for example Intel and PictureTel, might offer products for the Internet soon. As these bigger players bring products to market, the prices for video-conferencing applications should come down significantly.

Additional factors to consider in selecting a client package include security demands for the video-conferences your employees will hold, reliability of product support, and the quality of broadcasting you will require.

Real-World Applications

Video-conferences facilitate cost-effective face-to-face contact among employees, clients, and other business contacts who might be scattered throughout the world, as shown in Figure 33.1. The early adopters of video-conferencing technologies that run over the Internet include professionals in the education and scientific communities, who in 1993 and 1994 began discovering the opportunity for conducting in-person communications via video-conferencing applications.

For the corporate intranet, the applications for video-conferencing include connecting distributed work teams, enabling learning or training from remote locations, and providing entertainment broadcasts. Currently, corporate usage of TCP/IP-based video-conferencing is progressing from testing among small groups and pilot projects into an established communication medium for select groups of users. Widespread adoption of desktop video-conferencing is an increasingly viable option as the latest browsers with integrated video and audio capabilities become available. Currently, Netscape is beta testing its Atlas browser, which includes full support of the LiveMedia framework, which integrates real-time audio and video into the browser itself.

Following are a few examples of how companies across different industries are using desktop video-conferencing to reduce travel costs, facilitate quick communication of time-sensitive information, and provide enhanced customer service.

Sales and Marketing

Ameritech uses a video-conferencing application to communicate between sales offices and headquarters. This lets the company save on travel costs and improve the distribution of competitive information between the field and headquarters.

Technical Customer Service

SAP AMERICA uses video-conferencing to offer customers real-time, in-person support without the expense of on-site customer visits.

Portfolio Management

Chase Manhattan Bank has improved consultations between portfolio managers and institutional accounts by providing video-conferencing capabilities.

College Recruiting

At the Georgia Tech Institute of Technology, video-conferencing lets employers screen candidates in real time without incurring travel expenses.

Medical Applications

A radiological services company is lowering the costs of patient consultations by using desktop video-conferencing. Medical specialists in remote locations have immediate access to X rays and surgery videotape.

Real Estate Applications

Loan officers at real estate agencies use video-conferencing to contact home buyers for loan qualification and processing.

Case study: ONGC

A study revealed that the principal area of concern for the experts at the central office related to coordination between the central office and the rig. Moreover, the ONGC personnel were required to be physically present to monitor the equipment, drilling, as well as the control room.

Infrastructure: The company deployed PictureTel's system 4000 model 200 ZX with 30 frames per second at the central office at Vasudhara Bhavan, Mumbai, and at the three rigs, namely, BHN, BPA and Heera. Other equipment used for the solu- tion were video codecs; camera-main, auxiliary and docu- ment; Virtuoso audio package; Sony monitors and handycam; VCRs; PCs and others. Radio modems and sat- ellite link-ups using Comstrem satellite modems provided the backbone for the complete connectivity. The total cost of the VC solution was around Rs4 crore.

Benefits of the project:  Before the installation of the VC system, an average of around five helicopter visits daily were made from the cen- tral office to any of ttie rigs. This cost the company around Rs5 lakh per day. Also every time there was a snag at one of the offshore processing plants, the engineers were flown to the platform to locate the fault and rectify it, further in- creasing the cost. Other benefits which cannot be quanti- fied are the life oostof personnel. During bad weather, moni- toring often came to a standstill jeopardizing the life of per- sonnel at the rigs.

Future of Video Conferencing :

There is, as we have seen, an increasing variety of ways in which to deliver videoconferencing. The most appropriate choice of system will depend partly on the physical configuration of sites to be connected, the number of people to be included in the conference, the applications that are required, the amount of traffic to be carried, and the distances between sites.

A recent survey of educational applications of videoconferencing technology in North America (Bates 1992) identified a number of findings that are likely to have a wide relevance.

·         Students prefer the 'Electronic Classroom' at a local site to having to travel to another learning centre or central campus.

·         The amount of time needed for instructional preparation time was usually grossly under-estimated, and teaching (and learning) methods often had to be radically changed to exploit fully the teaching potential of the technology. Videoconferencing for teaching purposes required additional skills to those of a classroom teacher. Without training of the teaching staff and their students, systems were under-used.

·         In many of the projects reviewed, it was difficult, given the extra cost and lack of exploitation of the visual medium, to see the justification for using videoconferencing rather than audio-conferencing.

·         None of the projects reviewed provided firm evidence that two-way live videoconferencing was more effective than one-way video plus two-way audio, or even the distribution of video tapes for individual use. Indeed, there was some evidence that mature students who were working preferred flexibility to live video interaction, if the latter meant they had to be in a certain place at a certain time (Stone 1992). We do not fully understand the psychological limitations of video conferencing, more research in this area is essential.

Anything is possible with video conferencing if enough money is available. However, Institutes must have a clear plan about how they want to teach and where they want teaching to be delivered before committing to a particular delivery technology if cost effective systems are to be established. Video conferencing is the future of counseling. Now a client can sit in front of his computer and interact with his therapist without having to leave his home. A client can develop the same rapport and give feedback to his therapist that traditionally required an office visit.

So,The future of videoconferencing is boundless and exciting. Systems are being improved with multiprotocol codecs and enhanced codec software. The introduction of Internet 2 also promises inexpensive access to higher bandwidth and higher speed communications.

In the near future, as voice and video over IP improve, more and more people will be holding meetings or just chatting over the Internet. Teleconference software developers are looking to create a full sweet of applications for teleconferencing in the future. Not only will you just be able to make or participate in a teleconference, but you will be able to make a call, receive IP based video on demand either by multicast or broadcast basis. The goal is to provide an entire IP package for corporations to purchase that will fill all of their video and voice over IP needs.
As wireless technology spreads and available bandwidth increases, people will be participating in videoconferences through their PDA's (personal digital assistant) and wireless phones. This will allow the participants to be on the move while in a meeting. Handouts and materials to be discussed during the conference will be transmitted to the participants in real time. People will be able to access each other's schedules and a common time can be agreed upon and placed in to each person's electronic schedule. Negotiations with the videoconferencing provider will be automated. Voice recognition will allow the coordinator of the conference to set up all of the times for the conference by voice and billing will be automated. Some feel that video conferencing may eventually replace the telephone as smaller and smaller devices can receive bandwidths high enough to support this new technology. The big question is if communication devices get smaller and smaller and available bandwidth gets larger and larger, how are we supposed to see the videoconference on those tiny screens?


Conclusion:
Although starting slowly, Video conferencing is increasing rapidly as part of Internet communications. Personal use is already increasing rapidly. Business usage will increase dramatically in as we move nearer to the 2000's. This is going to be a headache for Internet Service Providers because, CU requires more bandwidth (signal power) than Web page browsing, and significantly more than chat--the current most-popular form of live communications.
Is video-conferencing a viable business communication tool that should be included in the corporate Intranet? The answer depends on the specific goals and configuration of individual networks. Video-conferencing affords corporations the sophistication of in-person communications in a model that can be incorporated into a cost-effective Intranet strategy; however, bandwidth concerns still create challenges for the system administrator.

As practical solutions to these issues are developed, video-conferencing over the Internet might ultimately become a de facto standard for business communications. In the meantime, most businesses will continue to rely on e-mail, chat, and even Internet phones to handle the bulk of communications traffic over their Intranets.

This will provide a great opportunity to communications professionals knowledgeable in a combination of writing, visual, computing, and photographic/video skills, with a knowledge of marketing and advertising. Communities who do not install this education in their schools will lose business to those that do.

 

 











 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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