Building, running and maintaining enterprise networks is getting more complicated and difficult all the time. Part of the problem is the proliferation of real-time applications such as voice and video communication. Such applications demand more bandwidth and better-quality connections than others. Part of it is unavoidable changes in user behavior. Employees' insistence on connecting their own devices to the network is one of the more visible examples of this.
Video conferencing was a lot more interesting to watch in 2011 than was VoIP. It wasn't that nothing happened in VoIP during the year. It was just that a lot more happened in video conferencing. This was especially true in the SMB space. Early summer saw a slew of significant announcements from vendors and providers. These announcements figured prominently in the VoIP Evolution report "SMB Video Conferencing: Getting Beyond Clouds & Interoperability."
From the viewpoint of video communication, two of the most interesting startups at the just-ended TechCrunch Disrupt conference didn't present on stage. Rather, they had displays in the "Startup Alley" area that attendees passed through on the way to the presentation hall. Significantly, both involved non-real-time video communication. Both also worked through Web browsers, Web cams and e-mail rather than through specialized software or equipment. As such, they highlighted one of the most prominent trends in video communication: the push for simplicity, ease of use, flexibility and breadth of availability.
Promoters of emerging communication technologies have a major message challenge: They need a shorthand way to explain what their new form of communication does for people. It's best if they can say it's like existing technologies, only better. With business video communication, the most obvious angle is to liken the experience to voice telephony. New technical models, though, always differ from existing ones. Thus comparing video to voice communication glosses over technical and other issues that may prove problematic in practice. Avistar Communications Corp., for one, is pushing a software-only approach to video communication, with a message that contrasts with those of most other players.
By now we know a lot of details about why HD voice calls are better than conventional phone calls. We've heard how the PSTN cuts off much of the audio range human conversation usually employs, making it hard to distinguish between fricatives such as s and f, and to understand people with different accents. We know that straining to fill in the words and phrases we can't understand produces listener fatigue and makes conference calls an ordeal.
All this information is evidence that the HD voice promoters have done a good job of getting the word out about their favored technology. But we don't have the same kind of information about why video calling is better than voice calling. The general assumption seems to be that everyone understands the benefit of video communication intuitively. In reality, understanding is limited, because detailed information is in short supply.
Making a video call, particularly one with good video quality, is a lot more complicated than making a voice call. No one system or service ties together all types of video communication equipment and users in a single network like the PSTN. In order to communicate, callers must have compatible equipment, network setups and/or software. They must also use the same method for identifying and connecting to other users. It's a far cry from just picking up a phone and dialing.