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Video Conferencing As We Know It Is Changing: Ready or Not

I have been working in the video conferencing industry since hmmmm, about 1988 and have  been blogging about it since 2006, or so.  Yikes!  So many products, so many conferences, so many changes, so much fun….

Anyway, so much for nostalgia….lets roll with the FUTURE….

The title of this blog entry kinda says it all:

Video conferencing as WE know it, is changing…..and unlike previous years, this upcoming change will wait for no one, as it will be driven NOT by the video conferencing industry, but, are you ready for this, by our USERS.  Wow!  Did you hear that?  USERS will drive this industry from here on….do you know how profound that is?  Up until now, the video conferencing industry has been providing a (really cool) TOOL, that no one (well, not exactly, but, you get my point) knew how to use.

Sure companies and individuals “used” video conferencing technology (for same old reasons like “it saves money on travel”) but did they REALLY understand how profoundly video conferencing could change their lives both at work and at home?

NOPE.  Not even close.

Up Until Now…

Video conferencing companies sold their USERS a TOOL.

Then the companies taught these USERS how to set-up that TOOL, how to use that TOOL (…here is a device we call a shovel……this is how you use it……DIG!), and sure enough, the users used that TOOL, but, only as instructed:  Sit down around this table, call this number by punching this button, talk, hang-up.

They did nothing more….they just used the TOOL.

Day in and day out, month after month, year after year….the users sat around a nice table  in a conference room, meeting with similar people in far off places.  Boring.  (But, I must say, it was amazing for it’s time….but, I am getting too nostalgic).

For 20 plus years, we provided our USERS with this (amazing) TOOL that had no external benefit except to “save money on travel” (did I already say that already?) .

THEN we added stuff to this TOOL like:  Application sharing (great!), improved audio quality (Grreat!), and high definition video (eh) so we could all sit in that expensive, beautiful, BORING, conference room and see our counterpart’s wrinkles, waddles, yellow teeth, bad hair, as they sit and (Play football?, Run?, Throw a ball?….no they) TALK (i.e. is move their lips, maybe turn their heads a bit, or roll their eyes) in glorious high definition?  You don’t need HD video to do your job, or talk to people (take off your glasses to experience SD, or worse), you DO need to collaborate effectively by: Working on documents, exchanging ideas, drawing up timelines,  throwing out ideas that can change the world, and getting feedback on those ideas…. then…. collaboratively writing papers that let the world know how dang smart you all are.

THAT is collaboration.  Voice, video, and data  working in harmony as if you were all in the same location….but, remotely located from each other.  Very Personal Telepresence like….oh, see here for the ORIGINAL Personal Telepresence concept.

But, I digress.

The Future….the kids will change our world…..

As I was saying….the world of HD / Telepresence conference room video conferencing to “save money on travel” (or to provide a wonderful human to human communication “experience”) is ending (shhhh, listen to the screaming of discontent….hear it?).  Our future USERS will end it, beeeeccaaauussseee, our USERS are finally understanding the true value, the true usefulness, the true beauty, of video conferencing.  Yipppeee!

They finally understand how to use the TOOLS we gave them to enhance their lives both at work and at home.

But not ALL of our users……mainly……just the kids.  The teens of today, the young 20 somethings, these are the USERS that will change (in the next decade or two, maybe sooner, maybe later, but it will happen) our entire world (from a video conferencing perspective).

The kids of that age grew up with computers, they grew up with the Internet, and now they go bonkers over social media in all it’s wild and diverse forms: Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Pinterest, Blogging…..whatever.

The kids of today are comfortable with communicating virtually, they are comfortable with remote work, they are comfortable with……video conferencing.  These wunder kids call it video chatting and it comes in all forms (thanks to us for providing these TOOLS):  Skype, ooVoo, Google+ Hangouts, even Facebook tried it (it was awful and they are trying again), etc. etc.

The difference is…..

The kids of today (and leaders of tomorrow) do not care to drive to a conference room and chat in HD (even though they are, by and large, wrinkle & waddle free).  They do it from Starbucks, McDonalds, Barnes & Noble, the bedroom, the family room, the airport, the airplane, trains, a corn field, playground, and, yes, the conference room…..ANYWHERE!

The kids of today do not seem to have a sense of  TIME (believe me I know…I wake up at 3 AM and do my obligatory safety check around the house, and my 20 year old is on Facebook, or video chatting).  They video chat (i.e. meet and do homework) with friends……ANYTIME!

And the kids of today are helping us old farts figure this stuff out too.  Suddenly, Grandma and Grandpa can now EASILY video conference with family (thanks to a TOOL called a Smartphone).  They can use Facetime, or Skype, or any number of really cool apps on their Smartphone.

NOW, truly, the time has come that video conferencing can be used as easy as making a phone call (ahhhh, how long have I been saying this was needed….too long…) by…..ANYONE!

Let me ask THE question:  Are these kids going to have an impact on how video conferencing is used in the workplace in the near future?  YES!

And therein lies my point…..the world of video conferencing (as we know it) is going to change to a virtual work environment (not saying when, or even saying completely, so don’t get all worried about losing your job…..yet).  People of the future WILL be working from ANYWHERE, collaborating with ANYONE,  at ANYTIME.

The conference room of tomorrow will be a virtual meeting place in the cloud (for giggles read this article on virtual work I wrote in August 1995).

The video conferencing TOOLS that WE (the collective we in the video conferencing industry) provided……are finally being understood, and utilized to their true potential, by the KIDS of today.  🙂


Anytime, anyone, anywhere.  Visual collaboration leaves the conference room and finds true love….


Evaluating Cloud Based Video Conferencing Services

OK….I am getting ready to evaluate several cloud based video conferencing services.

My definition of a decent cloud based video conferencing service is basic and simple (in theory…in practice, it may be a lot harder):

A cloud-based video conferencing service provides an easy-to-use, dial-in, ad-hoc, virtual meeting space for anyone, anytime, anywhere using any endpoint.

Before I proceed, I want to look back at what we did at ESnet back in the dark ages….

ESnet H.323 Architecture Basic Goals (circa 1999 to 2004)

From the customer perspective, our most important goal was to provide a video conferencing service that was easy to sign up for and, more importantly,  easy-to-use.

Fundamental goal:  Think telephone.

Making a telephone call is simple, anyone can do it with very little training.  To make a telephone call you do not need to “schedule” the call.  It is pure “ad-hoc”.  And you call another phone using an easy “phone number”.

Video conferencing should be the same.  You need to make a call….you make it.   You need to have a meeting…everyone in the meeting dials into the same “virtual” conference room by dialing a simple phone number.

  • On a train?  Dial in using your cell phone and use voice only.
  • In a fancy conference room?  Dial in using the room based system.
  • Sitting at your windows desktop computer?  Dial in using your desktop videoconferencing application.
  • Use Linux or a Mac?  Use open source Gnomemeeting to call in.

We met these goals (and by late 2004 we had possibly the worlds largest production H.323 implementation) with these features:

  • Web-based, automatic, registration (see actual web site here)
  • Ad-Hoc (no scheduling)
  • Dial-in only (using a “simple” 6 digit E.164 number)
  • Supported ALL the standards-based endpoints available at the time
  • Supported meeting participation via voice only (ie gateway…)
  • Supported video call-in via ISDN (gateway again..)
  • Provided worldwide access to our service.
  • Of course we included a lot more features including:  Various bit rate connections, different displays (various continuous presence to video switched), transcoding, gateway access, support hundreds of calls and thousands of hours of conferencing, always up and working, great support :-), etc etc.

What I Will Look for in Today’s Cloud Based Video Conferencing Services

A good cloud based service (according to me as a small business owner who needs to video conference with the outside world) consists of five parts:

Registration, Use, Administration, Support, and Cost

With that in mind, here the basic list I plan to use to compare cloud-based video conferencing services for this blog.

During the connection: I want to get a feel of each services architecture, goals, and future plans (if they can tell me).

How easy is the registration process?

Can I use the service as an “ad-hoc” dial-in service?

Does the services support ANY standards-based (H.323 / SIP) endpoint ?

Does the service also support popular video chat apps (Skype?, Google Chat?, Google Hangout?….other)?

Can I call in using my cell phone / telephone?

Can anyone, anywhere register and use the service anytime?

What is the video, audio quality during a meeting with two, three, or more people?

Does the service support data sharing / whiteboarding / screen sharing?

What administration features are available?

Can I add a person on the fly?

Can I mute people?

Can I drop people?

Can I change the default display (CP (and different flavors) or video switching)?

Can I record the meeting (video, audio, and data)?

What kind of support will I get?

live support via telephone?


live via chat?



I will send people to your web site for cost information, as that can sometimes be confusing…


Let the evals begin!

BlueJeans Network: Cloud Video Conferencing

Ah yes, I remember it well.  I remember the day when I had to order an ISDN line at home (remember 2B+D?) to attend a videoconference from home (hey…I practice not just preach telecommuting!).

Then, what seems like a short time later (and after ATM and Token Ring fell by the wayside…) we set-up pretty close to the first (Dr. Bob and Tim Poe were right there with us) H.323 videoconferencing network (which grew to be the largest IP-based video conferencing network in the world for a time, at ESnet).  THAT was FUN!  We played with (yes, technology is FUN!) gatekeepers, QCIF (the old timers know) MCU’s, newly developed numbering plans, evolving H.323 endpoints, and Clint and I running it all with military precision.  Yeah right…

The picture to the left shows the old way…our way.

The very expensive MCU, Gatekeeper and H.323 endpoints (I left out a Gateway to ISDN…since well, ISDN is dead) required Clint and I to keep it all running, configured, etc etc. Some companies have a whole team of people.  Lots of money invested, and you have to have a beefy Internet / Intranet to boot.  More money.

BUT…the results were ground-breaking-ly awesome (for the time).

Again time passed all too swiftly, and now people are talking about the “cloud” (just another name for the Internet), your damn cell phones can do video conferencing, and now one company, BlueJeans Network, tells us that they are doing “video conferencing via the cloud”.

Hmmmm, so now, Clint and I are gone (actually, we are!) replaced by a company out there on the Internet with a bunch of Clints and Mikes taking care of some amorphous infrastructure cloud that connects all these cell phones, Skype, the old H.323 stuff, and telepresence fancy dancy rooms together easy as 3.14???!!!

FREAKIN AWESOME! Except for the fact Clint and I are out of jobs…..hmmmm..

Note: I actually tested BlueJeans when they were asking for help.  I referred them to several of MY old customers so they could put BlueJeans through it’s paces, where I could not (being a starving blogger and coworking location owner.).

Now BlueJeans has been released and open to anyone.   Go here to see the cost.

Imagine:  Small businesses, independents, freelancers, can now have the same video conferencing capabilities that only the huge companies could afford only a few short years ago.  And, to me, best of all, your GrandMa or brother in the Navy can connect to you at your H.323 conference room at work via Skype from the ship or porch.

VERY cool!

Here is a sweet video that explains the BlueJeans Network concept:


For the ten billionth time, I repeat:  Video conferencing ANYTIME, ANYPLACE, ANYONE.

If you have to drive to participate in a video conference…that is, hmmm, s-t-u-p-i-d….DUH.

BlueJeans rocks!  I wish them the best!


Vidyo on the Apple iPad2

Damn this is great!   Friend Czoli from Vidyo shared this on Google+ today.

I have said this a thousand times before: Video conferencing anytime, anyplace, anyone.

Vidyo (see my getting old review of Vidyo here).

Facebook Skype Video Chat

Vidyo on a Tablet

Well, it seems that Facebook now offers point-to-point video chatting from within Facebook.

Good for them!  BUT…point-to-point is kinda useless…just saying.  I have more than one friend I like to chat with, and all the Bay Shore Kids could have a reunion.

Overall Opinion 

HoHum, but, at least video conferencing is now reaching the masses.  After 20 years….my work is done?!  🙂

Google+ (if anyone is actually using it…I cannot seem to get connected) offers multipoint video chat (using, I think, Vidyo software).  At least that is what I heard….


I have been saying for MANY years now that videoconferencing should be for anyone at anytime from anyplace.

Big fancy rooms that cost $500,000 each are simply not needed…DUH…each participant should stay home (#telecommuting = #coworking) and video chat into a meeting.  Save gas, save time, save money, save the environment.

Skype Video Review

Rating:  3 WaterTowers (where is multipoint?)

UPDATE: Skype now has multipoint (meaning three or more participants can meet) see my Skype Multipoint blog entry.

It took me awhile to get to Skype.  Not sure why, but, I’m glad I finally tested it.

The Verdict: I will use Skype as my main videoconferencing connection in the TracyVirtualOffice (now AltamontCowork).  I still have the Polycom PVX as the standards-based H.323 connection, but, I am using it less and less and….hmmmm, Skype (at least so far) is free.  Can’t beat that!


Before you read further, here is a really quick video I took of me (the only one of my friends brave, or dumb, enough to be on YouTube) calling the TracyVirtualOffice Patio computer.

Really Quickly

Skype rocks, but, it needs multipoint.

I used version and have it loaded on my trusty, 3 year old, Toshiba laptop and on the new emachines (Vista) desktop in the TracyVirtualOffice Patio.

We have screaming fast Comcast Business Internet.

Moving up! 🙂

My Deeper Thoughts (feel free to comment)

Re H.323 for the “masses”: The king is dead.  Long live the king.

Well H.323 is not really dead, but, you get the idea, maybe….ah….read on.

Except in the corporate world where high definition is the thing, I believe, now, that the standards-based H.323 videoconferencing market may not reach the masses as I, many years ago, had hoped would happen.

Don’t get me wrong, videoconferencing will still be a mass market (not counting corporate, education, telemedicine where it is doing very well thank you) success, but, the new king of videoconferencing for the masses may be (already is?) the Internet-based free (or very low cost) applications using a computer (laptop, network, cell phone, or desktop) and a web cam (built in or added).

And now, I’m on board in a big way.

Yes, I will continue to test the high end products and applications, yes, I will continue to use my Polycom PVX or Mirial Softphone to connect to my friends in the corporate world, but, moving forward, I am now a Skype user and everyone who crosses paths with me will know it.

Too bad it does not have multipoint….arrrghhh.

Prediction (?): There might be a time when these applications supplant the systems (high definition, standard definition and telepresence) in the corporate world….ohhh, did I say that?  Hmmmm, yup.

Talking with my friend Tom the other day (via Skype) there is one thing that I am still looking forward to in the home, but it is not here yet.  HD videoconferencing on your HDTV (I talked about it briefly in my “Ruminations” presentation, I called it VCTV).  THAT would be super cool and could move the standards-based stuff back into the limelight for the home-based masses.

But, that won’t happen anytime soon (sure wish it would, though) so in the next 10 years or so, before VCTV happens….Skype and others will rule, and, I see cell phone videoconferencing booming, just think of the applications…..

Videoconferencing, the commodity, is almost upon us and the ability to meet from anywhere, at anytime, with anyone is a very powerful driver for mass adoption.


Downloading and installing Skype is a breeze. The hardest part for me was adding contacts since most people I know still do not use it.  But, a few have surfaced (even though some work for videoconferencing vendors) and I have a small list of contacts now.

Skype works on Windows (I have it on Vista and XP), and the Mac. It was easy to set up and personalize.  Maybe not for someone who is severely computer-challenged, but, for the ordinary computer user, it rocks.

Some Skype Settings (and Me)

Some Skype Settings (and Me)


The list is soooooooo long, I dare not get into all of them here.  Here are a few, with some that surprised me (like full screen presentation!).

  • It is free (well, at least for now, not sure how long that will last)
  • The video and audio quality are great ( I can use it in the TVO as a conference room system….yup, it is that good.)
  • You can share your desktop or a portion of your desktop (if you pull up a Powerpoint, the called pary can make it full screen…the quality is awesome!, see pic below)
  • Full screen video and presentation is awesome (the quality of the video at full-screen is very good, see pic below).
  • File transfer (although it was painfully slow, I sent a 37 k file and it took nearly a minute).
  • Chat capability (Skype calls it IM)
  • It has call statistics (for the nerd in you)
  • You can send your contacts to the called party and they can add them to their list of contacts
  • You can play games with remote players (I have not tried this yet)
  • There are a zillion other options, many of which are for a fee (not free).  When you download Skype, you will see.

Some Screen Shots and Pictures

Calling someone is easy.  If they are on your contact list, just click on them and then again on “video call”.  Here are some screen shots and pics I took over the course of several calls.

Jay working hard in the TracyVirtualOffice

Jay working hard in the TracyVirtualOffice

Full Screen Presentation

Full Screen Presentation

Full Screen Video

Full Screen Video

Some Games You Can Download

Some Games You Can Download


If you use Skype to connect with family, friends, or even at work….you will not go wrong.

Call us at:  tracyvirtualoffice1  (just tell us who you are so I can filter)

Did I say Skype needs multipoint?