Videoconferencing does the business

18 Jul 2005

Traffic and travelling are the main reasons why Irish SMEs are beginning to look at videoconferencing as a cost-saving technology, according to Seán Holohan, managing director with Videnda Distribution. “You might have to go across the country or even across town for a short meeting but you could be travelling for hours. Videoconferencing becomes a solution,” he says. Videnda is a leading distributor of conferencing products, which has seen a 25pc increase in sales in the last year.

“Where there are dispersed project teams, in architecture and construction for example, where there’s need for regular communication with remote sites it makes sense,” he says. “But even within sectors you will find organisations that are more predisposed than others. There are no rules about who’s using the technology. It’s usually a top-down decision in companies that want to be able to make decisions quickly and increase productivity.”

The fact that the technology has got better and easier to use, at the same time as it has dropped in price, is increasing adoption. “The move to desktop solutions is driving it,” says Holohan. “The software lets employees make conference calls at their computers without having to book a conference room.”

It also bypasses a problem that plagued older systems: who’s in charge? “In the past they were another headache for the IT manager,” explains Holohan. “Because it’s now treated as an appliance, the technology is hidden from the user and it’s very straightforward.”

Videoconferencing products range from personal systems, costing less than €200 for client software and a web camera, to group systems that start at thousands and deliver more features and functionality. Videnda distributes Polycom products, the market leader in conferencing with a wide range of solutions including standalone systems.

Broadband might also be seen as boon for videoconferencing, but not necessarily so, according to Holohan: “Some broadband connections are ideal for fast internet access and fine for sharing files but the ADSL connections have no quality of service whatsoever. For videoconferencing you need it to be pretty much real-time for the voice and video packets to get across.”

The irony is that older ISDN connections are more stable and consistent, albeit at slower speeds. By contrast ADSL suffers from contention issues — the variable speeds created by people sharing the lines — and the fact that uplink and download connections are different speeds. Neither is conducive to videoconferencing that needs the same speed in both directions and degrades if the speed is variable.

“You get packet loss that results in glitches in the pictures,” says Holohan. “For that reason alone, people are sticking with ISDN. When the internet protocol (IP) connection is good it’s brilliant and cheaper but there can be a quality-of-service issue.”

To guarantee quality Holohan says customers will have to turn to carriers to implement wide area networks where the performance can be managed as opposed to leaving themselves open to the vagaries of the public internet. “For business-quality video over IP, people need to make sure they have sufficient bandwidth, low contention rates and, if possible, some quality-of-service guarantee from their service provider.”

By Ian Campbell