Mobile videoconferencing drives unified communications systems demand

VARs see more interest in unified communications systems as customers embrace mobile videoconferencing.

Unified communications solution providers are seeing more demand for video applications and mobile support.

The costs of business travel and the rise of the mobile workforce make mobile videoconferencing more appealing to business customers, VARs said. Increasingly, video solutions are moving away from high-end room-based systems to technologies that can help bring video applications to desktop and mobile devices, according to IDC in Framingham, Mass..

“We have had equal interest [in] video and mobility,” said Dave Casey, CEO of network integrator Westron Communications Inc. in Frisco, Texas. “By and large, people have the preconceived notion that this is too expensive. Now, people are coming away with the sense that this is possible.”

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In mid-March, IDC predicted that the enterprise videoconferencing market will reach about $3.2 billion this year -- an 18.7% increase over 2011. One of the main drivers helping justify unified communications products that incorporate video support continues to be their ability to help offset rising business travel expenses, especially for internal meetings, Casey said.

More companies, however, are embracing the notion that face-to-face videoconferencing capabilities can be a differentiator for sales calls.

Casey cited the case of a small financial services company that decided to invest in videoconferencing instead of prerecorded videos on its website. “Videoconferencing can offer a more in-person experience for new clients,” Casey said.

Small companies could also win points with much larger business partners.

“I ask people, ‘Do you think you could sell more if [your customers] knew you were doing this?’” Casey said. “The fact that you have video makes you appear larger and more professional in their eyes.”

For Baroan Technologies, an SMB solution provider based in Elmwood Park, N.J., support for smartphones and tablet computers is more of a factor for unified communications adoption than video, said Guy Baroan, founder and president.

“In our world, voice over IP is a big part of unified communications and how we tie in the personal digital assistants,” Baroan said.

Right now, some of Baroan’s small business customers use Skype for basic videoconferencing. But requirements for better mobile support and the need to connect with other systems are driving more small businesses to consider products such as those offered by LifeSize Communications, a division of Logitech, Baroan said.

“If gas prices continue to go up, video will be more and more of a requirement,” he said.

Technology providers can benefit from the burgeoning interest in video and mobile features by helping to seamlessly integrate them with unified communications systems, said Ed Wadbrook, vice president of unified communications and collaboration for Carousel Industries of North America Inc., a data center integrator and MSP in Exeter, R.I.

Many companies that have invested in separate solutions need a way to bridge what Wadbrook described as technology siloes that have never been unified.

“Companies are looking to have more effective meetings,” he said. “Video is more immersive and far more engaged than an audio conference.”

But the use of mobile technology and video is taxing the networking infrastructure at businesses, said Wadbrook. The increased video usage via mobile devices is pushing the limits of broadband wireless data plans. “The chokepoint is really the cost structure from the carrier,” he said. “Until we get through this, Wi-Fi will be really important.”

And at Westron, Wi-Fi infrastructure is one of the fastest-growing practice areas for 2012, Casey said.

The need to bring everything together while controlling hidden costs is creating opportunities for VARs with experience in network bandwidth management that can help businesses better control the impact of these devices.

“How do you break down all these islands and strive for interoperability, both internally and externally?” Wadbrook said. “People are trying to get greater value out of the investment they have made. … This is a great opportunity for an integrator like us that can look across the voice and data networks and answer questions like, ‘How do I design my network?’ ‘What role does security play?’ ”

About the expert
Heather Clancy is an award-winning business journalist in the New York City area with more than 20 years’ experience. Her articles have appeared in Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, the International Herald Tribune and The New York Times. Clancy was previously editor at Computer Reseller News, a B2B trade publication covering news and trends about the high-tech channel.

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