Mobile video conferencing set to take flight amid challenges

Video conferencing use on mobile devices will increase over time and bring value to enterprises but hurdles exist in the Asia-Pacific market, say experts.

Video conferencing on mobile devices is poised to take off with a growing number of smartphone users and rapidly improving technology, industry voices note, but caution the enterprise video market is not without its challenges.

As the number of enterprise mobile users rise, video conferencing will increasingly be removed from meeting rooms and delivered over desktops and mobile computing devices, Subha Rama, enterprise communications senior analyst at ABI Research, told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail.

According to her, the growing popularity of iPhone 4 and FaceTime which simplified video conferencing with a simple on-screen interface, prompted many vendors and managed services providers to extend the room and desktop experience to the mobile environment.

Pranabesh Nath, industry manager at Frost & Sullivan’s ICT Practice added that vendors have begun to push mobile versions of their applications optimized for handsets and tablets for two reasons. First, there are advancements in hardware in the form of dual-core processors, integrated video chips and high resolution screens. Mobile networks have also improved, with higher higher 3G and 4G availability in certain areas.

Technologies such as glasses-free 3D, virtual and holographic displays and higher performance processors will provide building blocks for the next generation of mobile devices, he noted.

Rama pointed out that many enterprise-grade and consumer media tablets are able to support video conferencing today, listing examples such as Cisco Cius, Avaya Flare and Research In Motion's Blackberry Playbook which have 1080-pixel video playback. Also in the market is Lifesize Passport, a 720p high-definition palm-sized appliance designed for video conferencing, which works with Skype and uses Adaptive Motion Control (AMC) to dynamically adapt to changing network conditions, she said.

"As more videoconferencing-ready mobile devices and smartphones arrive, technology will become much more pervasive than what it is today, [which] is mainly tied down to room systems and desktop," Rama predicted.

Skype told ZDNet Asia that it made its video-calling services available on the iPhone, iPad and Android this year. "Our mission is to continue to make Skype available everywhere so users can have their conversations whenever and wherever they are," Eunice Lim, Skype's consumer PR for EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) and Asia-Pacific, said in an e-mail.

Consumer case lacking
Both business users and consumers are set to benefit from new developments in video conferencing, Nath noted.

In the enterprise world, its potential to grow is immerse as video becomes more tightly integrated with all aspects of business communications, he said, adding desktop and mobile versions are expected to replace room-based systems as the mainstay in future.

BT Southeast Asia CEO Stephen Yeo, however, stated that mobile phones would not be optimal platforms for enterprise video conferencing. In an interview with ZDNet Asia, he pointed out that mobile phones are "good for seeing [short] news clips" but not for holding a discussion with people from three other countries at the same time, and that would be better served by telepresence.

"Videoconferencing solutions are more suited for tablets and PCs," said Yeo.

Rama agreed, adding that there were practical issues surrounding mobile video conferencing in terms of how smarter devices could integrate with the numerous room-based videoconferencing and telepresence systems, in addition to desktop video conferencing.

Nath expected growth of consumer usage of mobile video conferencing to be "nowhere as high" as people are not in the habit of making video calls, citing video's high data usage and the fact that the technology "really hasn't been pushed much" as obstacles.

"The future for enterprise video market looks bright as more enterprises employ video for various purposes, but the future for consumer based video looks hazy," Nath said. "There are many roadblocks to be cleared, the biggest of which may be cultural or behavioral."

In addition, as usage of video in consumer mobile phones rise, the biggest gainers will be the telecommunications providers and the video application service providers such as Google, Skype and Microsoft, Nath noted.

Rama also added that vendors and service providers will benefit because it expands their installed base. Wireless providers are already looking to deliver video conferencing over high-speed networks which will be an important application value add that offsets network commoditization, he said.

Technology not yet mature
Video on mobile devices, according to Nath, is "the newest kid on the block" with both the technology and the devices--high-end smartphones and tablets--still being very new and at a product evolution phase where they are refreshed every six to 12 months.

"For both enterprise and consumers, video was not the first application to [go] mobile because data, messaging and voice solutions are more useful and the hardware and network capabilities of mobile devices were sub-par which resulted in a poor user experience," he explained.

Particularly in the Asia-Pacific region, network latencies and bandwidth are challenges that need to be overcome, Nath said, pointing to a "lack of attractive solutions" from service providers and vendors even though 3G adoption is picking up in developing countries.

To resolve this issue, vendors are utilizing new codecs and compression algorithms such as H.265 or High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC), but these require hardware and software with higher computational capability.

"[What we have] then is a solution that offers real benefits in saving bandwidth cost by making it work over low bandwidth networks, but also cost quite a bit of money, which makes it harder to sell," Nath said.

Glenn Fleischman, executive vice president for e-commerce and video executive at Arkadin Global Conferencing, agreed network access is an issue in the Asia-Pacific. "The access to low cost, high quality network is not uniform throughout the region, particularly in developing cities," he said in an e-mail.

Arkadin's router-based multipoint video conferencing, he noted, uses the H.264 or Scalable Video Coding (SVC) standard, thereby allowing enterprise customers to roll out video capabilities to all their knowledge workers on endpoints including traditional room systems, PCs and Mac computers, and mobile platforms such as Apple iOS and Google Android, using best efforts networks rather than expensive guaranteed QoS overlay networks.