The Video Conferencing Evolution
Video conferencing has become an indispensable tool for all forms of business and casual communication. Whether it’s used to cut down on business travel costs and improve collaboration across time zones and continents, or just as an impromptu FaceTime chat with a friend across the street, the capabilities and quality of video conferencing have grown enormously just as costs have dropped significantly.
Let’s take a look at the history of video conferencing, talk about some of the things that still annoy us most, and help you ask the right questions to find the solution that’s right for you.
A Brief History
It all started way back in 1964, sort of…
- Although telephones and television were nothing new, it was at the World Fair of 1964 in New York where video conferencing truly captured the imagination of the public. That’s where AT&T first presented the Picturephone. Although it was undeniably an incredible piece of technology – even if the images were small and blurry – its size, cost, and complexity meant that it was never destined for great sales success.
- It wasn’t until the 1980s that video conferencing really took the leap from science fiction to reality. In 1982 Compression Labs began selling a video conferencing solution that cost a whopping $250,000! On top of that eye-watering price, the system cost an additional $1,000 per hour for line rental.
- In 1991, PictureTel collaborated with IBM to launch the first PC-based video conferencing system, which was much cheaper but still designed with deep-pocketed corporations in mind.
- In 1992, Apple released CU SeeMe for the Macintosh. The first iteration didn’t include audio, but by 1993 is expanded to allow multi-point conferencing and finally audio in 1994. In 1995 the service was expanded to include Windows-based PCs.
- In the early 2000s, Internet-based services such as Skype started to appear, opening up voice and video calls to users for free.
- With the development of video compression standards such as H.264, the availability of WiFi and the launch of 3G and then 4G cellular networks, we’ve seen an explosion in the popularity of video conferencing on laptop computers, smartphones, and tablets, bringing it to the masses as a cheap (often free) way of communicating.
For a more in-depth look at the history of video conferencing, check out our previous post on Video Conferencing Through the Years.
Driven by Consumer Demand
Today, with a smartphone or Internet-connected tablet in almost everyone’s hands, consumers are a major driving force for video conferencing. Here are some of the most popular apps today.
- WhatsApp: a world-famous app that promotes secure connections and was the most popular download of 2018
- Skype: a pioneer in the free voice-call space, today Skype allows up to 24 users, with features like recording and sharing videos
- Facebook Messenger: more than 1B users, with Snapchat-like filters
- Google Duo: a newer entrant from Google, Duo allows up to 8 people to have a video chat at once
- Viber: a popular application for those who prefer their video calls encrypted
- IMO: supports group calls
- Snapchat: some AR functionality built in, offers self-destructing messages and up to 16 people in one call
- Houseparty: relies heavily on social interactions
- JusTalk: delivers reasonable performance even over 3G connections
- Signal Private Messenger: offers end-to-end encryption
5 Annoying Things About Video Conferencing
But that’s not to say that video conferencing is perfect. In the work environment, in particular, it isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. Here are just a few of the things that (still) annoy people about video conferencing.
- The log-in process: Ever had to dial in multiple times, or get dropped from the call and have to dial in again? #SerenityNow
- Too many apps: You already have 10 different UC apps on your computer but you have to download yet another one for your call? And having to wait for participants to install browser plug-ins? #WebRTC
- Sound quality: Echoes, pops and hisses are never fun. And those people who hold side conversations without muting? #MicCheck
- Delays: How about those awkward delays that make people talk over the top of one another? Or when the voice and video don’t match up? #Latency
- Video quality: Last but not least, images that freeze and screens that refuse to be shared. With people using a mix of smartphones, laptops and dedicated devices to connect, there can be huge discrepancies in quality. #TechnicalDifficulties
The simple answer is, video conferencing is only as safe as you make it. Fortunately, there are some simple steps you can take to make it safer for your users and for your organization. Here are 7 practical tips:
- Prioritize network security: Don’t rely on your corporate firewall to do all the work. Video conferencing platforms often require their own session border controller (SBC) to manage traffic. Ask IT if your firewalls are configured correctly to handle it.
- Enforce encryption: You don’t want bad actors accessing your data, and video conferencing is no different; 128-bit AES encryption is the industry standard.
- Enforce permissions: Several video conferencing solutions provide open, virtual meeting spaces. Don’t allow private meetings to be held in these ungated spaces by creating separate groups for individual teams, such as marketing, executives, vendors, et cetera.
- Employee training: Employees are often (inadvertently) the weakest link in corporate security. Train them to understand their responsibilities when it comes to security, and provide them with guidelines on the proper use of corporate and BYOD devices. They should also be aware of some common risks to avoid, like connecting to video conferences via an unsecured or public WiFi, switching off encryption, displaying sensitive documents by mistake, and poor password management.
- Secure networks and devices: Make sure any devices that access the corporate network on-premise or off-premise can be identified and allowed to connect only if they meet company policy and do not have any malware or other applications that collect sensitive data or compromise security.
- Password management: Many employees don’t have a password on their device, or use the same passwords for private and work-related applications. If necessary, require that passwords are updated every three months.
- Continually improve: This is a never-ending process; review your video conferencing security protocols regularly and make sure everything is up to date.
Choosing the Right Video Conferencing Tools
The proliferation of video conferencing solutions means that there is a lot of choice. That’s a good thing, but it can also make it hard to narrow down which service is right for your needs. GoToMeeting, Cisco Webex Teams, Join.me, Microsoft Teams, RingCentral, Skype for Business and Zoom are some of the most popular cloud-based applications offering similar services. Each has a slightly different feature set with various pricing options, so it’s best to narrow down your biggest needs and the most common use cases in order to determine which one may suit your organization best. Here are ten things to consider:
- Number of participants: How many people will regularly join your conferences? Some services offer a free option if only a few participants will be joining. Other services specialize in large groups.
- Types of meetings: What types of meetings do you need to host? Do you want to allow Q&As from listeners, or do you want it to be listen-only?
- Ease of use: Video conferencing GUIs have improved a lot, but they’re still not all created equal. Be sure to try them out and find the one that’s most intuitive for you and your users.
- Mobile users: Many people need to participate (or even host) a video conference from their laptop or smartphone. Make sure the service you choose delivers a positive user experience.
- Screen sharing: Most presenters are familiar with sharing their screen; make sure the controls are easy to access, and easy to transfer from host to guest and back.
- Hardware: Do you have a conference room that you want to use for group video conferences? If so, you may find a solution that integrates well with your existing equipment. Keep in mind that you may need additional hardware in order to get the best results.
- Number of video feeds: Many video conferencing services say their meetings can host hundreds of participants at once, but there may actually be a cap on the number of video feeds. If that’s an important factor, make sure to ask before you commit.
- Recording: Do you need to record a meeting or webinar so that people can review the content at a later date? Many services now offer this capability, but there can be limits to the length, quality or amount of data that can be saved.
- Application integration: Speaking of integration, many of today’s video conferencing solutions integrate well with third-party applications, like Microsoft Outlook and PowerPoint. This can help if want an easy way to schedule meetings easily or import presentations and documents.
- Customer support: Finally, consider the quality of your provider’s customer support. When things go wrong, you need a service that can troubleshoot and resolve issues quickly. A poor user experience can negatively impact your reputation, so choose wisely!
Thanks for taking a look at our video conferencing overview. As technologies like 5G become more common, we’re bound to see video conferencing become even more useful and ubiquitous.
If you’ve ever wondered just how far video conferencing can go, we may have an answer for you. Just for kicks, we recently tested the limits of video conferencing by sending up a weather balloon to see how well we could maintain a call as it transitioned from a WiFi to a Cellular and finally a Satellite connection. The result was explosive! See the full video here.