The intersection of mobile, cloud, and social media technologies today has created a new class of global virtual worker who can work remotely across time zones and borders. Like never before, people have the ability to do their jobs from home and to leverage new developments in the area of Telepresence to make that experience more collaborative and agile. Let’s take a closer look at one of the most familiar forms of this technology – Telepresence videoconferencing.
Work Without Walls
The world of work has changed dramatically today to the point that anyone with a laptop or mobile device can collaborate with another person halfway around the world. The early Telepresence systems were primarily the domain of larger enterprises interested in saving business travel costs. In 2008 Cisco introduced to the public the first Telepresence conferencing room, which has enabled it, along with Polycom, to become one of the largest stakeholders in this $4 billion a year market. Teleconference rooms offer high-definition cameras, directed microphones, and eye-tracking features to improve the traditional videoconferencing experience and replicate face-to-face communication as much as possible. While Telepresence has been touted the next big thing in communications technologies, prohibitive costs have kept them out of the reach of most companies. A truly immersive Telepresence room can cost $250,000 or more, leading one source to describe Telepresence as “the private jet of company boardrooms across the globe.”
The options for Telepresence have changed dramatically in the last few years as the technology has improved and the costs have fallen, making it much more accessible to small businesses and individuals. One of the earliest players that really transformed the market, but which we don’t often think of as a Telepresence system, is Skype.
Skype is a software emulator that lets you use your computer or smartphone to make calls over the internet. Since its first voice-only application came out in 2003, and added video in 2006, Skype has innovated the VoIP protocol to meet the needs for real-time video and audio calls over the internet free of charge. Based on the definition of Telepresence as allowing someone to feel present or give the appearance of being present in another location, Skype not only qualifies as Telepresence but truly has become Telepresence for the masses. Skype is also a helpful tool for enabling businesses to become more collaborative as it offers a whole suite of cost effective tools tailored for the enterprise market.
Apple has gotten on board with Telepresence and in 2010 introduced FaceTime as its own communications solution in conjunction with the release of the iPhone 4. This application works by connecting Apple supported devices (iPhone 4 or later, a fourth generation iPod Touch or later, a second generation iPad or later, or a computer with OS X) to each other for real-time video communications. The ubiquitous presence of Apple products in the business world make FaceTime a good choice for employees looking for an easy and agile means to videoconference.
Vidyo is another major player in the videoconferencing industry that has carved out a market for providing high definition solutions for the small business at a lower cost. Vidyo is the first in the videoconferencing market to leverage the most recent enhancement to the H.264 standard for video compression known as Scalable Video Coding (SVC). Through its VidyoOne $9500 package, which includes the VidyoPortal and VidyoRouter capability, plus 10 VidyoLines and 100 downloads, a small company can implement a high quality multi-person videoconferencing system over IP to multiple endpoints such as a desktop, room system, and mobile device.
So we’ve seen some popular examples of how Telepresence videoconferencing has transformed over the past several years from large, expensive conference rooms to more accessible, cost effective, and agile systems for the individual and small business.
But there’s another major trend in the Telepresence industry that has caught lots of attention in the last several years. In the next part of this series we’ll take a closer look at Telepresence robotics and how this intriguing area of innovation is redefining what it means to be a remote worker today.