I am frequently approached by resellers looking to get into video conferencing (a.k.a. Media Collaboration). Typically there is some fear factor that created a barrier to entry that they are now looking to overcome. To help alleviate the concerns, we do a two-minute general overview of the technologies before turning them on to more in-depth resources to prepare them to move forward. The overview goes something like this…
There are two primary methods of providing video conferencing, one is using dedicated hardware and the other is a web-based service. The primary unit in a hardware based system is called a CODEC. The CODEC provides connectivity to the network and the various AV components, such as a camera(s) display(s), and microphone(s), and provides the processing necessary to send and receive content to other VTC systems. There are standards that allow VTC CODECs to conference with CODECS from other manufacturers – as long as they comply with the same standards. The most common standard is H.323. To ensure your customer is not limited to conferencing only with other end points that have the same system, it is a good idea to ensure the system of choice is “standards based”. Beyond H.323 there are other standards to address things like data sharing and HD video streaming. One advantage to a hardware based codec is they are oftentimes compatible with third-party control systems. This makes it easy to integrate features such as dialing and camera control from a touch screen. Many hardware based CODECs provide point-to-point conferencing with multi-participant (“multi-point”) capabilities offered as an upgrade option. It is important to look at the total cost of the solution with upgrades since sometimes the upgrades can add significantly to the overall cost beyond the base unit.
Web-based services offer the advantage that they are intended to be accessed from a typical computer with a webcam, speaker, and mic. In some scenarios, this can facilitate participation with remote internal users, or external contacts that do not otherwise have access to a VTC CODEC. Web-based conferencing can be broken down into two primary categories: client-based services and cloud-based services. The difference is client-based services require all participants download, install, and run the same software. This can be a challenge in locked-down IT environments where there are download or other restrictions – potentially excluding parties your customer may need to conference with. Skype is one example of a client-based web conferencing service where everyone needs to install the software and have a Skype account. In contrast, cloud-based services are hosted on the cloud, either on the public cloud (i.e. the Web) or a private cloud (i.e. the customers own servers) and are typically accessible via any web browser or a smart device app. This does not require that participants have an account, yet meetings can still be secured by the moderator with a password. While cloud-based conferencing can be more cost effective than hardware and easier to integrate, they are not compatible with third-party control systems. When compared to launching a VTC call with a hardware CODEC by touching a few buttons on a remote, firing up a browser and logging into a cloud-based service adds a couple variables that may slightly complicate the end user experience. For end-user simplicity, the hardware codec typically wins. For reaching remote participants that may not have access to a codec, cloud-based is the way to go.
But what if you want both simplicity in the conference room and the ability to easily conference with remote participants? In that scenario, the options are limited, but the available solution is elegant. Spontania from ClearOne is an enterprise-class, cloud-based solution that also offers H.323 compatibility. This means a host can launch a video conference from any computer and participants can join from another web-based computer or hardware based CODEC (plus iOS/Android smart devices and audio only via dial in). The H.323 gateway also provides an affordable method to expand legacy standards-based hardware CODECs to allow for larger multi-point meetings.
While the above provides basic familiarity it’s important to build the skill set further. Two good options include ClearOne’s online Product Specialist and in person Technical Specialist certifications. While provided at no cost, they are also good for multiple CTS RUs. Details are available at www.ClearOne.com/training. Armed with the tools from these certifications, resellers are then well prepared to expand their revenue options into the world of video conferencing.