Video calling has been a possibility since Bell Labs first launched The Western Electric Picturephone in 1956. But while consumers and businesses alike have admired the innovation of video communication, it has yet to reach any kind of parity in usage with other communications tools, such as the telephone or e-mail.
Consumer demand driving enterprise take-up
However, we are at a pivotal stage where video could be ready for another run at the mainstream. It is consumers who have begun to use video conferencing to communicate with friends and family – in fact the take-up of this new technology is at an all-time high. Thanks to companies and tools like Skype, and the in-building of webcams into computer monitors, consumers at home have had increased and easy access to video communication. The popularity of this has prompted Skype to develop a new app for the iPhone 4, to allow its own service to be used on the hottest video-calling smartphone on the market.
The numbers bear this out: almost 40 per cent of Skype minutes last year were video calls. This figure has almost doubled in the space of two years – up from 25 per cent at the end of 2008 – at a time when Skype moved past 100 billion accumulated minutes. This consumer impact will drive the enterprise to change the conversation and integrate video conferencing. So far, success has been mixed – the Telecommunications Industry Association reports average growth of 6.5 per cent for each of the last three years – but we could be poised for a surge in uptake similar to that of Skype.
Many consumers will have made video calls through sheer curiosity – it’s there, so why not try it? Others, having fallen victim to travel disruption – following natural disasters or terrorist threats – have been forced to ‘attend’ weddings, births and other special occasions via a webcam. This exposure has shown them the highlights of the new technology – and they’re keen to see more.
This take-up will impact the enterprise, where employees who are used to video calling friends and family around the world want to do the same with their colleagues. However, tools like Skype were not designed for use in the enterprise – they don’t integrate with existing platforms and media infrastructures – and it lacks the security for corporate use. So enterprise vendors need to step up. For the technology to succeed now, it’s important that we understand what stopped it before.
Quality has been an issue for the consumer
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