funny thing happened on the way to the videoconference room: A lot of
people realized that they didnt need to see the other person. In
general, when two people are talking about something that theyre
doing, from the standpoint of productivity, the most important thing is
for them to see what it is that theyre talking about, rather than
each other, says Lou Latham, a research analyst with the Gartner
Group, based in Stamford, Connecticut. In a sales situation, personal
contact is more important, but in a collaborative atmosphere, data and
document sharing is the key component. Latham says he frequently
receives calls from companies who want to start videoconferencing because
they have employees in different offices that need to work together. We
talk for a while, and it turns out that what they really want is NetMeeting.
When face-to-face videoconferencing shifts to data sharing, videoconferences
become less formal and more of a workgroup activity. Today, when
you have a videoconference, you go to a special room, and its all
preplanned, says Latham. You have to e-mail or fax things
that youre going to talk about. Its an occasion. The goal
should be to make it a commodity, and the best way to make it a commodity
is to focus on the work that youre doing rather than the novelty
value of being able to see the other person. Two architects might
view a drawing of a building and work collaboratively on the documentwithout
seeing each others face. Or several engineers could cooperate on
a new car design and be able to concentrate solely on the project itself.
While some videoconferencing
systems, such as PictureTels 970, are designed to accommodate both
video and data, there are some tradeoffs between the two types of content.
A video stream is optimized for frame rates, so its smooth,
says Latham. It might be running at 640 x 480. With a document data
stream, its much more important to have a higher resolution. Youre
willing to give up the frame rate for a 1,024 x 768 resolution, which
is the resolution you would expect on your desktop. He predicts
that the trend toward data content will help push the sales of equipment.
If you have an NTSC display, youll be looking to upgrade,
because you wont be able to work collaboratively on a diagram with
10-point type in the same way you can locally.
Latham predicts that as the gee-whiz aspect of videoconferencing wears
off, the primacy of content is going to accelerate. He gives
the example of making a phone call on your computer. You do it once
or twice to prove you can do it, and then you realize you already have
a phone. For many companies, videoconferencing is an expensive phone
call thats a lot of trouble to set up. When the IP issues
get straightened out, and we have commodity hardware that we can plug
into a port and install in a very simple way, then well start to
see more ad hoc use. Ad hoc use is the use that will drive the volume
and move the market.
neatly divides into two subcategories: the ISDN-based corporate market
and the 56K-modem-based consumer market. The lines are becoming blurred
between the two subcategories as corporations shift from ISDN phone lines
to network-based IP systems, and consumers move from 56K modems to DSL
and cable systems. The most glaring difference between the two subcategories
is the price of the equipment. A typical corporate system costs more than
$10,000, while a typical consumer system costs less than $100. According
to Mark Kirstein, vice president of research with Cahners In-Stat Group,
based in Scottsdale, Arizona, manufacturers are tripling their shipments
of consumer-based videoconferencing cameras each year. Kirsteins
research shows 1.3 million cameras shipped in 1998, and 3.5 million shipped
in 1999. For 2000, he expects growth in the 300 percent range.
By comparison, the corporate videoconferencing market appears to be stuck
in a period of slow, but steady growth.