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Teleconferencing in the 1990s: videoconferencing.

Remember Alice in Wonderland? She was so fascinated by the Looking Glass that she passed through it, into a fantasy world. Today, we have life imitating art. It's videoconferencing, and suddenly it's real technology. It's ready for you and me. But are we ready for it?

America's love affair with video has taken many forms over the years. Today cable TV brings dozens of channels into homes and businesses. Soon, when entertainment is brought into your house via telco-provided fiber networks, you'll be able to get hundreds of channels. This could easily happen by the year 2000.

Loui Moffitte, a telecomm consultant in Mission Viejo, Calif., whose firm, Loui Moffitte & Associates, focuses on high-tech areas like videoconferencing and distance learning, recently authored a special report, "Videoconferencing: A Strategic Guide to Equipment, Technologies, and Real-World Applications." It's available from Telecommunications Reports (the folks who bring you the Yellow Peril).

"All the pieces are falling into place for videoconferencing to make its big push," Moffitte says. "Codec technology has made enormous improvements, and systems are finally affordable for businesses large and small alike.

From a technology perspective, videoconferencing now reaches more people because codec prices have steadily declined, and transmission speeds are lower because video compression is highly efficient.

"Now that the industry has made so many advances in technology, videoconferencing is ready to penetrate its next frontier, the desktop," Moffitte observes. "But it will still take sufficient digital bandwidth to deliver video signals to the desktop, and current local area networks are not yet up to the task," she adds. "Techniques like asynchronous transfer mode (ATM), which are video-friendly, could be used to deliver video, as well as voice, data, text and imaging, to the desktop of the late 1990s."

Moffitte adds that LANs must be able to support the bursty nature of voice and data communications, yet be able to handle the special aspects of video transmission.

Another important development is standards. CCITT (Consultative Committee for International Telegraphy and Telephony) has developed a set of video standards, the most important of which is H.261.

"This is the video codec standard," Moffitte says. "It bridges the gap between codecs of different manufacturers, because it defines a way to convert unique television signal formats into a common format.

"Video has truly proven itself in the business community," Moffitte says. "Benefits like savings in travel costs, elimination of non-productive travel time, and real-time delivery of business information are well-known among experienced video users."

But it is new applications that are exciting the industry. Two of these are telecommuting and telemedicine, according to Moffitte. "Why should people sit in their cars on the freeway," she asks, "when they could be in their homes working?"

The justifications for telecommuting are compelling. Moffitte adds. "We can identify economic benefits, productivity improvements and environmental issues that support the telecommuting concept." Adding video at the desktop will further enhance the value of telecommuting.

"People will be able to operate virtually the same as if they are in an office," Moffitte observes, "but without the interruptions and office politics that often impede productivity."

Improvements in medical care through video are gaining recognition. Remote diagnostics by video, especially for people who are physically unable to travel to a healthcare facility, is an important advantage video offers.

"Unfortunately, the insurance industry has yet to recognize video as a medical service they will compensate in a health claim," she adds.

If you believe that videoconferencing is an "acceptable" technology, how do you move your company into video? Follow these steps, as suggested by Moffitte:

* Start by developing a videoconferencing planning team and identify applications for video.

* Quantify video benefits using a cost/benefits analysis, making sure you are focusing on real-world applications.

* Identify prospective sites for video equipment. Consider placing video equipment "on wheels" to make it available to a larger number of people.

* Select the proper "mix" of dial-up and private communications circuits, making sure sufficient bandwidth is available to support both voice and video traffic.

* Make sure video products conform to CCITT standards, such as H.261.

* Develop internal procedures for videoconference system operation, as well as guidelines for scheduling and conducting meetings.

* Develop a promotional campaign to encourage videoconference usage. Conduct video system training so employees will be encouraged to use it.

* Once videoconferencing is in place, survey users to determine how well the technology is working. Provide periodic reports on video activity to management.

When's the best time to get started? Right now!
COPYRIGHT 1993 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Kirvan, Paul
Publication:Communications News
Article Type:Column
Date:Oct 1, 1993
Words:746
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