INSIDE MOBILE: Mobile Video Conferencing: Surprise! We Can All See You!

By J. Gerry Purdy  |  Posted 2010-11-16

INSIDE MOBILE: Mobile Video Conferencing: Surprise! We Can All See You!

You have to love those Apple iPhone FaceTime ads on TV. They set up how mobile video conferencing can be so emotionally appealing: the grandparents get to see the new grandbaby from afar, the husband in the military gets to sweet talk and see his wife while on active duty, and the female shows off her new clothes to her friends. These are absolutely wonderful ways in which to use mobile video conferencing that means a lot more than just talking or sharing a photo taken with the phone.

But there's the counterexample that reminds us to consider when it's appropriate (or not) to use mobile video conferencing: someone hears their phone ring and answers it when just coming out of the shower, accidentally leaving the video sharing turned on. Ah oh. Not a good idea. Embarrassing for everyone.

Mobile video conferencing is going to get a lot more popular for consumers as well as in the enterprise. The technology is finally getting good enough that you could consider having a video phone call just about any time and anyplace. Here's what you need to know about mobile video conferencing so you can take advantage of the benefits.

For consumers who own a smartphone, making a video call with someone else will become a standard feature within the next few years. You'll be able to make a call just as you do now and then elect to "go video" much in the same way Skype works. The person on the other end should always have the right and technical capability to accept or reject the request to open a video link.

While FaceTime appears to be restricted to Apple's walled garden, Skype and others will enable mobile video calling on most mobile devices. I believe that FaceTime will get more use when Apple adds a camera to their next version of the iPad. Skype already works in text and nonvideo talking mode on this and other mobile devices. I hope the industry will develop open standards that even Apple can support to enable any mobile device to conduct a video call with someone else.

Video Conferencing in the Enterprise

Video conferencing in the enterprise

In the enterprise, there are a number of different reasons to do video conferencing. I am using "video calling" for consumer, person-to-person links whereas "video conferencing" typically involves three or more people on a video link at the same time. Most video conferencing firms have already added, or will soon add, mobile devices to their product so that someone can be using a mobile device during the video conference, talking and interacting with others who are using a notebook PC.

Early video conferencing solutions suffered from poor images and audio. The video images would scatter a great deal and audio often would be delayed from the video so that it was hard to understand someone talking. With better communication links and much more sophisticated software, the video conferencing experience is much better and acceptable in most situations.

There are a number of companies providing mobile extensions to their video conferencing solutions for the enterprise, including Adobe (Connect 8), Cisco, Damaka, LifeSize, Polycom, Sony, Tandberg, Vidyo and Radvision (Scopia).

Radvision wants customers and prospects to see that people on a video conference call can be connected using a mobile smartphone device. All of these solutions use a server to encode and decode the video signal between the source and the destination. While these video conferencing solutions are not inexpensive, they increase employee productivity and reduce the need for air travel (which is far more expensive).

To test out the process of video conferencing, I held an analyst briefing recently with the folks at Vidyo. Their claim to fame is that they make the link between the client devices through their server much more efficient by eliminating one of the encode/decode steps. They have incorporated a capability that looks for who's talking and automatically moves that person to the larger image on the display, much like what happens in a live meeting in a conference room when someone begins to speak.

Video conferencing is certainly becoming acceptable in most large companies. It can help when someone has to explain something using a marker board or flip chart that can't be done when simply on a conference call. However, video conferencing-especially when some of the client devices are smartphones-has a sense of being a bit more formal than when only on a conference call. When you look at the examples on the Tandberg Website, you get a sense that it's a TV studio. People in their ads are dressed to the nines, obviously in a formal, on-air TV studio-like situation. Thus, video conferencing will never be used as much as conferencing calling.

Video calling and video conferencing are going to grow in popularity to the point where people will ask, "Should we 'go video' on the call?" When it's justified, it will provide a tremendous benefit. But everyone should be careful and respectful of others when making the decision. Someone might be home not feeling well and having that person attend via video would not be appropriate. They could still participate via conference call.

One side benefit from video calling and video conferencing is that I think people will be more conscious on how they look and, therefore, provide a little improvement from sloppy casual to respectable casual. No one, however, wants to ever hear, "Surprise! We can all see you!"

J. Gerry Purdy, Ph.D. is Principal Analyst of Mobile & Wireless at MobileTrax LLC. As a nationally recognized industry authority, Dr. Purdy focuses on monitoring and analyzing emerging trends, technologies and market behavior in the mobile computing and wireless data communications industry in North America. Dr. Purdy is an "edge of network" analyst looking at devices, applications and services, as well as wireless connectivity to those devices. Dr. Purdy provides critical insights regarding mobile and wireless devices, wireless data communications and connection to the infrastructure that powers the data in the wireless handheld. He is author of the column Inside Mobile & Wireless that provides industry insights and is read by over 100,000 people a month.

Dr. Purdy continues to be affiliated with the venture capital industry as well. He currently is Managing Director at Yosemite Ventures. And he spent five years as a Venture Advisor for Diamondhead Ventures in Menlo Park where he identified, attracted and recommended investments in emerging companies in mobile and wireless. He has had a prior affiliation with East Peak Advisors and, subsequently, following their acquisition, with FBR Capital Markets. For more than 16 years, Dr. Purdy has been consulting, speaking, researching, networking, writing and developing state-of-the-art concepts that challenge people's mind-sets, as well as developing new ways of thinking and forecasting in the mobile computing and wireless data arenas. Often quoted, Dr. Purdy's ideas and opinions are followed closely by thought leaders in the mobile and wireless industry. He is author of three books as well.

Dr. Purdy currently is a member of the Program Advisory Board of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) which produces CES, one of the largest trade shows in the world. He is a frequent moderator at CTIA conferences and GSM Mobile World Congress. He also is a member of the Board of the Atlanta Wireless Technology Forum. Dr. Purdy has a B.S. degree in Engineering Physics from University of Tennessee, a M.S. degree in Computer Science from UCLA, and a Ph.D. in Computer Science and Exercise Physiology from Stanford University. He can be reached at

Disclosure Statement: From time to time, I may have a direct or indirect equity position in a company that is mentioned in this column. If that situation happens, then I'll disclose it at that time.

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