Video conferencing endpoints are only as useful as their ability to connect to other video conferencing endpoints, regardless of what company manufactured them. That should be the assumption, but it’s often not the case, even when enterprise-grade platforms are involved. It is also something that manufacturers often fail to tell value-added resellers (VARs), frequently leaving them and their customers in a difficult position. Here are some of the issues that arise surrounding interoperability:
Interoperability problems are actually fairly common. For a long time, lack of interoperability between major video conferencing platforms has been a problem. In management’s eyes, problems with connectivity undermine video conferencing’s value proposition. If the problem is severe enough that customers limit their spending to just conference rooms and executive suites, rather than deploying video conferencing company-wide, it can be a lost opportunity for integrators and vendors.
When organizations don’t deploy video conferencing as widely as they could because of interoperability issues, there are fewer opportunities for their business partners, suppliers, and customers to use video to communicate with them. As a result, those companies don’t spend on video and may instead simply use consumer-grade video products such as Skype and Google Hangouts.
Video conferences often utilize multiple wide-area networks, and interoperability between them can also affect efficiency. As a result, vendors and telcos such as AT&T, Polycom, and Verizon founded the Open Visual Communications Consortium (OVCC) in October 2011 to focus on interoperability in a ubiquitous video environment. Its mission has been to create an interconnected network to support video over multiple service provider networks.
Interoperability challenges also revolve around the rise of unified communications (UC) platforms, such as Microsoft’s Lync and Cisco’s Jabber. Companies enjoy the benefits of UC, partly because they can use their existing PCs and don’t have to provide every employee with a specialized video endpoint. Because of this, video conferencing vendors are adding UC support. But UC and traditional video conferencing platforms have different architectures, and that’s where interoperability issues often emerge. For instance, if you take Vidyo’s, Polycom’s, Microsoft’s, and Avaya’s methodologies, there is absolutely no interoperability.
Codec standards also create interoperability issues. A video codec is just a device or software that enables compression or decompression of digital video. There is a complicated balancing act between the video quality, bit rates, encoding and decoding algorithms, errors and delays, and a number of other things that discern one video codec from another. Codecs determine the amount of bandwidth that a business will need to send and receive a video call at a specific frame rate and resolution and determines the video architecture required to support an end-to-end video conferencing application. For example, if the video conferencing manufacturer that a company selects uses a video codec that does not work with widely adopted industry standards, the company risks creating an environment that won’t interoperate with other video conferencing environments outside of the enterprise. These single-source solutions often require transcoding gateways to support video between standards-based and non-standards-based environments. This can increase costs, add delays in call processing, and make the video experience poor for the end-user. Manufacturers’ solutions usually fall into one of two categories:
Video conferencing products based on proprietary codecs often lead to closed solutions down the road that do not support the innovation found in standards-based open community development. Proprietary video codecs can also be expensive to invest in, which may limit the development of the product and create additional interoperability issues and licensing problems.
Video conferencing products based on standards-based codecs use capabilities that have been developed by a large community of experts, not just one company. This provides solutions that can be used via standards interoperability to other collaboration tools both within and outside the enterprise and between equipment using the same, open standards.
- In addition, there are new video technology platforms becoming available that are much simpler to use and cost 50 percent to 65 percent less than standard, hardware-based video conferencing platforms. Invitations for video calls can be sent from any device, including Lync endpoints, browsers, phones, and video room endpoints, and can be accepted with a simple click. Larger manufacturers of video equipment don’t offer these newer platforms and normally won’t mention them to resellers.
VARs should understand where different manufacturers’ video equipment will not interoperate with that of other manufacturers’. Many enterprise-class vendors are declaring interoperability, but there are often feature limitations, and the actual set of supported features can be basic. Integrators’ system engineering teams can help sales teams ensure they understand what does and doesn’t work and can ask questions of the manufacturer before widely allowing sales of the solution to their customers. VARs also need to be aware of new offers, new standards, and new licensing schemes in order to make the best offer to their customers and make the most money for themselves.
Does your company have anything to add to the information in this blog post? Please feel free to comment below.