Videoconferencing and the Era of Access  

Published 8/30/2012


David Danto


Principal Consultant - AV / Multimedia / Video / UC,

Dimension Data


Director of Emerging Technology, IMCCA


In the first part of this conversation, I wrote a blog describing why a formal usage and adoption plan is critical to achieving ROI in a videoconferencing implementation. I recommended putting people first -- obtaining actual business needs from a focus group before selecting a product or service.

As we look back over the history of videoconferencing, it is easy to identify general periods of time where one product or system type defined the space. There were and are always exceptions, of course, but for the most part, our industry can be split up into eras. Reviewing the past helps us to understand where we are now and where we're going.

ISDN video cart
If you go back about 25 years, the commercial part of our industry was formed in the era of the ISDN video cart. Be it Picture-Tel or V-Tel or some other brand, it was a mobile system with a big CRT that plugged into the public switched network. It never got connected correctly by the telephone company on the first try, and users never trusted it to provide any kind of reliability.

Part of the reason for that was because of the cart itself. Encouraging users to be able to disconnect the system and move it around meant no one was able to constantly monitor it for availability or issues.

Integrated videoconference room
The next significant era would be that of the integrated videoconference room. This was much more about the aesthetic and presentation than about the technology. Many organizations wanted to show that they could afford well designed, permanently installed systems.

The engineers and AV companies designing these rooms were frequently well over the top in complexity -- creating spaces that could do anything for anyone, and therefore did nothing simply or well. The designers created complex control panels that they could understand, but which frequently intimidated the users.

This gave birth to the concept of the "AV technician standing by" in case the inevitable problem occurred and users needed help. (At the time, it wasn't realized that this was as silly as building a car that needed a mechanic in the back-seat all the time to operate it.) On top of the complexity, because the room usually represented a significant expense, it was frequently reserved for the most important senior meetings, regardless of the need for video -- further preventing significant video utilization.

A little over five years ago, we were introduced to the era of telepresence, a word used to represent a significant change in the way video was experienced. The systems exhibited a simple user interface, life-size participants, the magic disappearing of the rooms' technology, etc. (I won't take the time to redefine what has happened to the term and the space again here, but feel free to read my old blog about it.)

Love it or hate it, telepresence reinvigorated the videoconferencing space. It was also usually really, really expensive, and again limited to important senior management for their meetings. As good as it could be, very few people in an organization were able to take advantage of the benefits.

Current market research shows that what is now known as immersive telepresence has just about reached a saturation point, with many satisfied firms using it, but few firms without the technology interested in obtaining it.

Current access era
Which leads us to the question of what will we call the current era. BYOD? Mobility? Non-immersive telepresence? These are all good thoughts, but what I think will really stand out as we look back a few years from now is that this was the era of "access."

Up until now, videoconferencing systems were a tool for the privileged few -- senior executives, lawyers, important people. In today's world, videoconferencing is what is being done by your pre-teenager right now (which is causing your slow Internet connection as you read this blog). Video is everywhere! We need it at our home, at our hotel, at the beach, at the airport -- heck, even on the plane in some cases. We no longer restrict its use to one particular segment of our organization or one specific room.

Mobility, excellent software, and Internet connectivity all makes it possible. The important point to make clear, though, is that the integrated conference room, the immersive telepresence room, and/or hardware in general are not "wrong" or "bad" choices. As I always say, it's all about getting the unique blend right for your organization.



This blog was written by David Danto and contains solely his own, personal opinions. It originally was published at UBM’s “The Video Enterprise” website that was closed down November 1st 2012.  Here is a link to the Google cache of the page with comments.  I do not know how long Google keeps these pages.


David has over 30 years of experience providing problem solving leadership and innovation in media and unified communications technologies for various firms in the corporate, broadcasting and academic worlds including AT&T, Bloomberg LP, FNN, Morgan Stanley, NYU, Lehman Brothers and JP Morgan Chase. He recently joined Dimension Data as their Principal Consultant for the collaboration, multimedia, video and AV disciplines. He is also the IMCCA’s Director of Emerging Technology. David can be reached at or, he can be followed on Twitter @NJDavidD , and his full bio and other blogs and articles can be seen at