Telepresence calls in mobility, social collaboration

Efforts to integrate videoconferencing in mobile devices "natural" evolution with rapid mobile developments and proliferation of social networks, but device support and bandwidth still key challenges, note market players.
Written by Ellyne Phneah, Contributor

Telepresence capabilities will be increasingly integrated into mobile devices and social media, but device support and bandwidth problems will remain key challenges, market players note.

Organizations are already using videoconferencing tools to save money, increase productivity and reduce travel time. Now, the rise of smartphones and tablets is ushering an era of ubiquitous video delivered from specialized high-end telepresence rooms through to personal desktop and mobile devices, Tony Czipak, head of portfolio and partnerships of BT Asia-Pacific, told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail.

Nick Hawkins, technology consulting group director of Polycom Asia-Pacific, explained that with technological innovations around mobile devices and the ever-changing nature of the workplace, it is a "natural evolution" to incorporate enterprise-grade video onto these devices.

Companies increasingly also understand these tools will be key in meeting business imperatives and organizational demands for greater flexibility and responsiveness in the workplace, Hawkins said in an e-mail.

"With the incorporation of telepresence on mobile devices, this brings a new level of efficiency and productivity for the remote and mobile workforce regardless of industry," he said. "Furthermore, with this tie-in, response will be immediate, collaboration is improved, decision-making is enhanced and communication is instantaneous."

According to Simon Claringbold, Asia-Pacific vice president at LifeSize Communications, social media also has redefined user engagement with text, videos and photos but in terms of collaboration, a conference call is usually the "usual practice" for instant conversation across distances. He pointed to the ability to see and talk to everyone "as if they [were] beside you regardless of location or time".

Claringbold noted that the market for years had struggled to deliver interoperable videoconferencing tools to mobile devices, and the experience was far from the simplicity of a voicecall. However, he said things have changed and video communications today is about high-definition (HD).

He noted that while Skype, MSN, Yahoo and Apple FaceTime are limited only to its users, allowing the user to communicate with another running the same application, these tools can be accessed via different platforms including mobile and social networks. "Now, the technology is already here to interoperate and integrate all, and the ease of adoption will lend video communications across all private and social communications network," he said.

Issues of device capability, network availability
But while it is possible to deliver a richer collaborative and social experience by tying different offerings together, device capability and network availability are still challenges that need to be resolved, Subha Rama, senior analyst of enterprise communications at ABI Research, noted in an e-mail.

She explained that when mobile devices are used in a telepresence conference, the overall user experience tends to be degraded as most multipoint control unit (MCU) architectures are designed in such a way that video quality are compromised to accommodate devices operating on low-bandwidth networks.

Jonathan Lee, Southeast Asia head of pre-sales consultancy at Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise, added that telepresence systems typically require huge bandwidth, multiple projected video screens and customized room ambience to "achieve maximum effect". However, currently, mobile devices do not guarantee good quality and user experience since many do not support a HD video camera, Lee told ZDNet Asia.

However, he maintained that the device ecosystem would evolve and become more advanced in the near future.

Additionally, integrating telepresence capabilities into mobile devices involves higher bandwidth requirements since devices running on 3G are still unpredictable and the installation of session border controller (SBC) is costly. SBC is typically deployed in IP telephony networks to control signaling and call functions.

However, Ramas noted that newer codecs such as scalable video coding (SVC) can overcome this problem to a great extent.

She added that managed service providers have a role to play in supporting companies looking to bring mobile devices into videoconferencing sessions. "Currently, the MCU architecture are designed for the perfect world where you have room systems connected over dedicated networks," the ABI Research analyst said. "But obviously, mobile devices will disrupt this perfect world and the technology to manage this kind of disruption is still evolving."

APAC poised for tie-in
According to Hawkins, the Asia-Pacific region is a dynamic and competitive market and one that easily adapts to technological innovations. He added that the region is already driving video collaboration to millions of users for day-to-day communication.

Hence, he noted that there are huge opportunities for growth in the region and various verticals including healthcare, education, government and manufacturing, which are already adopting visual communications and mobility applications for their daily operations.

The Polycom executive explained that a physician, for instance, would use a tablet device to collaborate through video with other medical experts to streamline telemedicine evaluation, speed diagnosis and help save lives. Students also can stay connected virtually to professors and lecturers, and access course content from a classroom, remote campus or home.

Furthermore, Czipak added, the adoption of smartphones and mobile devices is strong across Asia-Pacific. Along with a younger demographic profile and the rise of Asian multinational companies, the region is set to lead in mobile video integration and drive usage cases that are "uniquely tailored" to Asia.

However, Rama noted that while there was a lot of interest in Asia-Pacific to access social media on mobile devices, videoconferencing and telepresence was "an entirely different ballgame".

"You need pervasive broadband networks to make this happen," he said. "Asia-Pacific will be at least two to three years behind North America in adopting this."

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