View on Videoconferencing
The COVID 19 pandemic has ushered in the era of videoconferencing at warp speed, likely replacing much of business travel for years to come or certainly reducing the need for it. The benefits—significantly lower out-of-pocket expenses, less down time, reduced wear and tear on employees, and lower energy consumption—suggest that it’s here to stay.
How can your company get the most from business videoconferencing? While individual software applications for remote workers have been a lifeline during the pandemic, there are other solutions for the long term, including dedicated hardware and video installation systems. In this article, Lilker Technology Solutions Director John Hassett breaks down the options in terms of capabilities, performance and cost.
First Things First
To help determine the best investment for your particular needs, consider the following before reviewing the options:
- What will be your organization’s structure/workforce situation down the road? Will you be 100% remote, 100% in the office or a hybrid?
- What is the nature of your videoconferences? Are they one-on-one, small group, or large team meetings? Do you prefer to have everyone in the same room?
- What level of audio and video quality do you require?
- What is your budget?
Option #1 Licensed Software Apps
For a fully remote workforce, software apps are the way to go. The all-too-familiar licensed software applications for business, including Google Hangout, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Cisco Webex Meeting, Go to Meeting, and others are inexpensive, easy to use and mobile. Accessible from individual laptops, tablets and cell phones, these business apps work for one-on-one and small group videoconferencing and run anywhere from $20 to $100/month per license for professional use.
The downside? The quality of the audio and video is dependent on your Wi-Fi / network bandwidth coverage as well as the PC or laptop hardware and OS software you’re using. When connecting to
Wi-Fi, a strong signal and one that isn’t affected by other devices in the home or building is required. No matter how sophisticated your computer’s camera and speakers are, if the bandwidth isn’t there, the video and audio quality won’t be there either.
If this is going to be your long-term solution, be sure to research the various app licenses. There are some key differences, including the number of meetings allowed at one time. Also, look to see if a videoconferencing app is offered in other licensing agreements you already have or plan to purchase. For example, the Microsoft Teams app can be included in Windows 365, allowing full integration of other Microsoft applications such as Excel, PowerPoint and Word.
Option #2: Enhanced, Integrated Software-based Video Solution
This mid-range option works best for small group meetings in confined areas, such as huddle rooms, that hold up to five participants. Video software—Google Hangout, Zoom, etc.—is integrated into a hardware device that provides enhanced speakers, microphone and camera. The system typically uses dedicated internet cabling, not Wi-Fi, to ensure a consistent, higher quality audio and videoconference experience for attendants.
The cost for this type of videoconferencing solution is in the $2,000 range (without TV/monitor) for quality hardware, camera and speakers. Licensing fees for the video software are additional. Since these systems have only one camera and one set of speakers, they are not workable for larger group meetings where everyone needs to be heard.
There are several systems to choose from: Crestron Mercury, Polycom Trio & Tap, Cisco Webex DX80 and Logitech, among others. Every appliance is Internet Protocol (IP) based, which will require programming and support from a network support engineer. It’s important to understand the pros and cons of the software licenses and the technical support needed before making a purchase.
Option #3: Hardware-based Video Installation
The gold standard of videoconferencing options, hardware-based video installation systems utilize dedicated CODEC hardware that encodes and decodes audio and video signaling for better performance. Designed for a group of 5 to 25 meeting participants across a large space, these systems have multiple high-quality microphones and amplified speakers in various locations, enabling everyone in the room to hear and speak. They also typically include echo cancellation and voice lifting technologies to enhance the experience, leveling out the sound throughout the space.
Hardware-based systems, which can cost in the range of $20,000-$50,000, are a capital investment, to be weighed against your company’s projected requirements over time. As with the other options, there are multiple manufacturers, including Polycom, Lifesize, Cisco, offering various level of solutions and equipment.
To effectively engage in a quality videoconferencing environment, you want to provide the best user experience possible within your given budget constraints. Hiring a design professional to help guide the process of choosing the right equipment to match your spaces, budget and office ecology is smart business. This will ensure that you have the right system, training, and support to make your company stand out among your competition.
To discuss your specific videoconferencing needs with Lilker’s Technology Solutions Group, email or call John Hassett at 212-695-1000, ext. 240.