Unified communications technology basics
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If you're looking to implement video conferencing, you need to understand the basics behind the technology, starting...
with the types of endpoints and back-end services available to your business. Endpoints provide the user experience, while back-end services enable the connectivity of endpoints and the associated management of video conferencing equipment.
Main types of video conferencing endpoints
- Desktop endpoints are software applications or browser-based interfaces that provide access to video conferencing sessions. Typically, these applications take advantage of existing, built-in cameras or rely on external USB-connected cameras. The audio relies on integrated microphones and speakers, or Bluetooth or USB-connected devices. Browser-based clients may use the native WebRTC capabilities of browsers, like Chrome and Firefox, or require plug-ins to support video conferencing.
- Mobile video apps enable users to participate in video conferences via phones or tablets, regardless of their location.
- Executive systems are optimized for a desktop experience, providing higher-quality video conferencing than desktop applications or browsers. Executive systems typically include hardware that optimizes video encapsulation and decapsulation and supports higher video resolutions than desktop alternatives.
- Room-based video offers a variety of configurations -- and price points -- to support small, medium and large meeting rooms. Available features typically include support for multiple screens, the ability to project content from laptops or mobile devices and cameras that focus on active speakers around a room. Audio features vary as well; some vendors offer beamforming microphones to eliminate background noise or other audio enhancements.
- Immersive telepresence simulates a live meeting. Large screens mounted on a wall or above conference tables show people at life-size. Similar furniture, directional acoustics and cameras mounted at eye level give the appearance that participants are sitting at the same table and looking at one another. Some sophisticated systems incorporate 3D and holographic images, with virtually invisible screens to create immersive experiences. Because of the complexity involved, many vendors that offer this equipment also offer telepresence support and service, either directly or through partners or resellers. Among the different types of video conferencing endpoints, immersive telepresence is the most expensive option.
- Hardware multipoint control units (MCUs) are typically rack-mounted servers that provide interconnectivity between endpoints. MCUs provide transcoding between different signaling and encapsulation protocols.
Different types of video conferencing back-end services
- Software MCUs, or video routers, replicate the functionality of hardware MCUs, but do so in virtualized software or special-purpose appliances. Typically, these work best in environments where all endpoints share support for a common set of standards, such as SIP signaling and H.264 video encapsulation.
- Cloud virtual meeting rooms (VMRs) provide subscription-based offerings that replace the need for on-premises hardware or virtual software. VMRs typically offer interoperability among vendor systems and open standards, and they may offer meet-me conferencing that allows endpoints to connect into always-on meeting rooms -- similar to people dialing into audio bridges.
- Management services are typically offered by cloud VMR providers and managed endpoint services, providing information such as utilization, endpoint inventory, software version control, upgrade management and policy enforcement. If you evaluate different types of video conferencing cloud-based services, be sure to review any security constraints and receive approval from risk-management groups.
- Additional back-end services include interoperability between legacy and new platforms, security enforcement for external participants and integration among room systems and desktop and mobile systems.
Before you investigate specific types of video conferencing products and vendors, you'll want to determine cost considerations. Because costs vary greatly, depending on the system you choose and the scope of the installation, you should determine a budget early in the process. Cost can also be affected by your video-quality requirements and any network design changes you may need to accommodate video conferencing systems.
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