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Video Conferencing Has Bright Future for Growing Role as Business Tool.

Communications satellites have become crucial in our planet's telecommunications infrastructure. Satellites today relay 60 percent of international telecommunications. More than 100 communications satellites are now orbiting the earth or are planned for the near future.

Videoconferencing is one of the brightest services made available by satellites. It has been claimed that teleconferencing saves travel time and allows more people to participate in conferences and workshops than ever before. Most importantly, there is new interest in teleconferencing's ability to increase human productivity.

Teleconferencing has a bright future, particularly as a business tool.

Since there have been predictions for several years, especially in the US, that videoconferencing was about to enter an explosive growth period, there are some who are predicting that since this has not yet happened, it never will. Sorting out the market potential for videoconferencing, however, leads to the inescapable conclusion that the predictions of the past about teleconferencing will yet be realized.

After all, who predicted a few years ago that thousands of white-collar workers would be seated in modular cells hunched in front of CRTs all day long? Who would have predicted that cellular technology would allow us to use our office while traveling at 55 miles per hour on the way to work?

According to some observers of the computer-conferencing scene, computers started with batch processing, and it was easy to get used to that. It took about 20 years to get interactive on-line processing. Yet with videoconferencing, we have it all, all at once. It is full-motion; it is color; it is sound; it is alive; it is interactive; and it is instant.

Must Overcome Culture Shock

Corporate culture shock exists, however. Companies and people need time and successful experiences to get used to this new way of doing business. The next few years will provide that time.

There are five basic types of teleconferencing. The first type is simple audioconferencing. Audioconferences are accomplished by calling the telephone company to set up a conference call, or by using one of the many bridge services available. Audioconferencing is the least-expensive and most easily available type of teleconferencing.

If graphics are added to the simple audioconference call, such as text transmission or an electronic blackboard or writing tablet, the result is called an audio-plus or audiographics conference.

An audiographics teleconference allows documents to be transmitted over a telephone line. The speed and quality of transmission varies with the system, and the cost of the equipment. Audiographics also allows spontaneous exchange of visual information and real-time electronic display of materials.

With audiographics, the conference participants can also send in advance visuals (such as slides) that they wish to have displayed during the conference.

The next step up in complexity and cost is variously called slow-scan, captured-frame or freeze-frame conferencing. This type of conferencing uses 56 kb/s telephone lines to tranmit a single picture to a receive location. The pictures are in color or black and white, depending on the cost of the equipment selected. To send still-frame video over voice-grade lines, television cameras and monitors pick up and display information. The picture is "refreshed," or changed, every seven to 90 seconds, depending on the speed of change needed and the cost of the equipment.

It's a bit like looking at overhead projections or 35mm slides as a speaker gives a presentation. A second telephone line is used for the audio portion of the conference. It is generally not recommended that users select slow-scan television for conferencing if the subjects to be transmitted are primarily people (speakers or the audience). Instead, slow-scan is most effective when used to transmit drawings, graphs, chart and the like, and the people pictures are limited to just one or two establishing shots in the beginning and perhaps a "good-by" shot of the speaker or audience at the end.

The fourth type of teleconferencing is computer conferencing. The proliferation of personal computers is bringing an enormous expansion of computer conferencing. Computer conferencing includes such features as bulletin board, personal notepad and management reports that can be written by more than one person working from more than one location.

There are four levels of computer conferencing. In the first level, the conference is totally private; it is a one-to-one relationship between two participants. The second level of computer conferencing involves controlled access so that more than one person can participate, but on a controlled basis.

On the next level of conferencing, one originator can deliver simultaneous messages to many recipients, or multiple messages can be sent to one central area, with comments added by individuals, one by one.

Finally, global computer conferencing is like the bulletin board at a local grocery store. Anyone with a computer has access to all the messages that are stored.

Computer conferencing, unlike other types of teleconferencing, is asynchronous. Computer conferencing does not require the recipient of the message to participate live while the message is being sent. Messages can be picked up, and the conference continues at the sender's convenience. While other forms of teleconferencing require verbal skills, computer conferencing requires written skills.

A New Management Style

Computer conferencing will help the development of networking as a new management style. In traditional corporate pyramids, control is exercised at

the top. Networks, on the other hand, have no top and are open to all ideas.

Networks are possible in large organizations that rely on electronics, such as computers and phones, to communicate. The idea is that management is opened up and the top-to-bottom structure is broken up. This concept of networking as a management style has made the most headway in hardware-oriented, spread-out companies. Desktop computers and phone lines are used, as are electronic mail, teleconferencing and remote computing.

Electronic networks are used to send memos and policies, make requests, ask for ideas, consolidate incoming information, reach decisions, lay out future planning and design new products. This type of network offers a chance for an employee to cut across the organization and gain access to more innovation through the corporate structure. This may be a use of computer conferencing that enthusiasts did not predict several years ago, but there is no doubt that it is taking place today.

The fifth and most-talked-about, most-written-about and most-expensive type of teleconferencing is full-motion videoconferencing. This type can be divided into two subgroups: special-event or ad-hoc networks, and dedicated private or corporate networks.

Special-event networks are set up by associations, companies or organizations interested in getting a message from one originating point to many points around the US or the world. There are networking organizations that specialize in the complete process of client consultation, production of the video show and networking all the multiple receive sites. One-way videoconferencing of special events usually involves two-way return audio so the audience can ask questions of the presenters.

Often, audiences numbering in the thousands and located in dozens or hundreds of sites, participate in ad-hoc or special-event videoconferences. Transmission is almost exclusively analog via satellite. Since the transmissions are live, there is often a strong sense of participation by audiences, even though they may be hundreds or thousands of miles from each other and from the originating site where the presenters are.

A Fairly Recent Development

It was in the late 1970s that American business and non-profit organizations began their tentative use of special-event teleconferencing via satellite. One of the first was the American Dietetic Association, which transmitted educational programs to dietitians in several dozen locations around the US. Ford Motor Company used a videoconference to introduce a new car to 20,000 dealers and sales people in 38 cities.

The advantages of special-event teleconferencing are many. Accuracy and efficiency is increased when a meeting conducted several times is converted into one meeting for all to attend. A meeting conducted in several locations at different times will often convey a different message each time, while one videoconference delivers the same message to all participants at the same time. Often the participants in a "road-show" type of serial meeting have already heard the story, or some version of it, by the time the presenters reach the third or fourth city.

Television is a powerful medium, and can be used extremely effectively in a videoconference by a capable producer and/or director. Television is motion, color, sound, immediate, live and, with teleconferencing, can be interactive. Much of today's adult population grew up on television and turns naturally to the medium for information and entertainment.

Because special-event teleconferences are live television, they usually originate from television studios using sophisticated broadcast TV equipment. However, videoconferences can originate live from any location accessible to a television camera crew and satellite uplink.

Anyone planning a videoconference needs to keep in mind that this is both a television show and a meeting. The meeting planning must be done just as if one were planning a business meeting--comfort of the audience, appropriate break times, refreshments, ability to see the screen. All must be considered by the planner. The television portion of the meeting is best left to a professional organization or TV producer/director.

The planner should think first about what message is to be delivered, and to what audience. Then the television production and networking organizations can be brought in to do their specialized jobs.

The networking is equally important to the overall success of the meeting, since a good visual TV production counts for little if it isn't delivered to the appropriate audiences at their locations.

User organizations rarely have the expertise or facilities to professionally execute the task of analyzing and selecting uplink facilities, transmission frequency, satellite time, audio and receive sites, according to most experts.

Special-event teleconferences can be received at a variety of sites. Hotels, meeting halls and convention centers, churches, union halls, college campuses and libraries all have been used as receive sites for videoconferences.

At each receive site there is usually a site facilitator, or coordinator, who can function as a host or hostess, registering people and making them feel welcome, introducing the program, passing out materials and announcing breaks. The site facilitator in some cases may be called on to conduct on-site discussion or workshop-type activities during a break in the videoconference. He or she must also ensure that the receive site audience knows how and when to use the audio system to call in with questions.

Costs Can Vary

Costs of a special-event type of videoconference range from $20,000 for a small event transmitted to a few locations, to several hundred thousand dollars or more for a major product introduction. Costs vary with the type of receive site selected, number of hours the teleconference runs and the amount of production put into the television portion of the program.

A very different type of television production is involved with the second type of videoconferencing. Dedicated or private networks are usually located on corporate or association premises, and they can be used informally for half an hour or an hour to conduct a meeting between Point A and Point B to solve a specific problem, or to replace routinely held meetings involving travel.

Special-event teleconferencing involves TV techniques and a professional producer/director. Private or dedicated networks completely eliminate the "show-biz" aspect of teleconferencing and allow business people to meet informally and easily using the video medium. The signal is two-way video as well as audio. More than two sites may be involved in such a teleconference meeting. The two-way video signal can be transmitted on a variety of media and is often digitized and compressed in a codec to take advantage of the lower cost of narrower bandwidth channels.

In addition to the two-way video mode with two or three nodes on the network, some companies in the US are moving toward a private, dedicated network that is one-way video with return audio. As the number of teleconferences produced by a company grows, dedicated facilities may prove less costly and more convenient than ad hoc networks.

One US company that began with ad hoc teleconferences using hotel facilities moved to its own dedicated network in its third year of using teleconferencing. The company now has permanent uplinks at two locations and receive earth stations at 64 company locations in the US and Canada.

These dedicated networks include facilities on company premises. Audiences are generally much smaller than in special-event teleconferencing and many dedicated networks use Ku-band transmission, while special-event teleconferencing uses C-band almost exclusively in the US.

Another company's sophisticated corporate videoconferencing network culminates a four-year development effort. In addition to full-motion, color, encrypted video transmission, it offers facsimile transmission of documents. The wide screens can be split to show a speaker on one side and graphics on the other.

A large American retailer hopes to save $2 million per year with its six videoconference centers. Executives will attend routinely scheduled videoconferences, while buyers in the regional offices will see the latest fashions by teleconference without traveling to New York City.

Private, dedicated networks for large dispersed organizations appear to be the natural evolution in communications from ad hoc or special events to routinely scheduled video meetings held on company premises.

Three sales must be made for corporate videoconferencing to succeed. First, the concept must be sold to top management. This becomes more important as the cost increases. Second, the telecommunications manager must bless the deal. Finally, the users must agree to try teleconferencing.

During this third step, things can break down in a corporation. The market for teleconferencing will never be realized as long as teleconferencing rooms are designed with an extremely high-tech look and are therefore intimidating to low-tech users. Teleconferencing also will never take off in corporation if using the room itself is more complex than using a telephone. Simplicity, ease of use and good audio are what first-time users are looking for in a dedicated teleconference room.

More Answers Coming on Benefits

There is not much research yet on how videoconferencing really affects the way we do business. We do not yet know who really is benefiting and in what ways. We are not sure where the growth markets are, who is buying and what the non-buyers are doing.

Today's teleconference users, particularly those stepping up to the corporate dedicated-network arena, will soon have answers for us based on their own personal experiences. Those wildly optimistic forecasts of three years ago may yet come true three years from now, once the real and provable benefits of increased productivity are realized and documented.
COPYRIGHT 1985 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1985 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Rash, P.
Publication:Communications News
Date:Apr 1, 1985
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