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Enterprise mobile video conferencing: Benefits and drawbacks

Enterprise mobile video conferencing is delivering new services that improve productivity and cut costs, but there are some limits to its usefulness.

At last, mobile video has arrived. Led by Apple's introduction of Facetime for iPhone 4 back in June of 2010, mobile video conferencing options are rapidly expanding in both the consumer and enterprise markets alike. This trend raises critical challenges and opportunities for those charged with crafting and executing an enterprise mobile video conferencing and collaboration strategy for their organization.

First off is the need to develop a business case for mobile video conferencing. Here's where we're already starting to see specific instances of how companies are looking at the potential to use mobile video to deliver new services, improve productivity or cut costs. Here are some examples:

  • Equipping field personnel with mobile video capabilities to enable real-time filming for tasks such as claims adjustment, or to stream live video back to a control room to enlist the aid of remotely located experts in solving a particular challenge.
  • Giving doctors the ability to engage in live video chats with patients regardless of location, enabling remote monitoring, diagnosis or check-ups.
  • Enabling high-profile customers to engage in video chats with their account representative for a greater degree of personal interaction.

These examples represent only the tip of the iceberg as individuals find new ways of innovating around mobile video conferencing.

So what's the drawback? Early adopters tell us of a couple of thorny issues limiting the usefulness of enterprise mobile video conferencing:

  • Shake, rattle and roll: Conferencing with someone on a handheld, video-enabled phone or tablet is a bit like talking with someone who is riding on a rollercoaster. The person on the other end of the call can experience motion sickness as the mobile user constantly moves the handheld camera. Mini tripods and cases that hold tablets in place can address these concerns.
  • Camera quality: Many reviews of Apple's front-facing iPad 2 camera have panned its inferior quality to the camera found in the latest iPhone 4. Other tablet and phone-based cameras can't support high definition; this means that participants increasingly used to, and demanding of, a high-definition video conferencing experience will find disappointment from a return to poor-quality conferences. These experiences are likely to diminish interest in mobile video chats, or limit their ability to improve collaboration. Many tablet and phone-based cameras can't compensate for poor lighting as well.
  • Camera positioning: Got forehead? It's not only camera movement that's a concern, but also camera positioning. Most tablet users keep their device in their lap, which although comfortable, will give the participant on the other end of the call a great view up their nose. Overcoming this concern requires making sure that mobile users properly position their devices to ensure the best image.
  • Network issues: Providers have long battled each other over network quality, and video only exacerbates these concerns. Mobile video works fine when one is in range of a well-performing Wi-Fi access point, but high-quality video over cellular networks is problematic due to bandwidth and latency concerns.

Despite these concerns, we expect the use of enterprise mobile video conferencing to grow, especially as network performance and camera quality improves and users get more accustomed to the need to keep cameras still and converse in well-lighted areas. Don't forget the bottom line: Make sure mobility is part of your video conferencing strategy.

Read Part 2 of this series on mobile video conferencing: Ensuring secure and compliant enterprise mobile video platforms.

About the author:
Irwin Lazar is the vice president for communications and collaboration research at Nemertes Research, where he develops and manages research projects, develops cost models, conducts strategic seminars and advises clients. Irwin is responsible for benchmarking the adoption and use of emerging technologies in the enterprise in areas including VoIP, unified communications, video conferencing, social computing, collaboration and advanced network services.

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Since the alternative is hopping on a plane, video conferencing has been amazingly good for us. Yes, we've run into some bandwidth problems and the occasional drop out. International calls can get pretty funky when we're linking, say, New York and LA with France and Melbourne and Tokyo....
I have been the beneficiary of video conferencing and using remote meeting options, and for the most part, they have worked very well. They do take some immediacy away from the discussions, and invariably there are technical issues to be dealt with, but overall, the benefit outweighs the disadvantages. the opportunities to use mobile devices for this, thus far, have been limited, but I would greatly appreciate improvements in that arena, as I find myself in spots where a mobile FaceTime check in would be much easier than lugging out the laptop and finding a hotspot to connect to (or tether to my phone).