Conferencing equipment: Audio, Video and Web

More affordable video-, audio- and web-conferencing equipment, combined with post-Sept. 11th travel reductions, have led engineering firms to a greater use of such collaboration tools than ever before.According to Andrew Davis, senior analyst and managing partner of Brookline, Mass.-based Wainhouse Research LLC, "Travel has become inefficient, causing people to be more in tune to other al...

02/01/2002


More affordable video-, audio- and web-conferencing equipment, combined with post-Sept. 11th travel reductions, have led engineering firms to a greater use of such collaboration tools than ever before.

According to Andrew Davis, senior analyst and managing partner of Brookline, Mass.-based Wainhouse Research LLC, "Travel has become inefficient, causing people to be more in tune to other alternatives. If you're an executive or a manager and you value your time, flying has become a real nuisance. So, you ask yourself, is there a better way to host a meeting?"

According to a recent report released by Wainhouse, the market for videoconferencing systems is projected to hit $1.39 billion by 2006, up from $600 million in 2001.

Tools for talking

There are three major varieties of collaboration tools— audio , video and the Web , and each has its own strengths. Audio conferencing , according to Davis, is limited in the number of people it can bring together, but remains popular because most offices already have the necessary telecom equipment. In fact, Wainhouse reports that the audio conferencing industry is now growing at 30% per year. Video conferencing is similar technology to audio but allows for additional features like point-to-point or multi-point communication. Web conferencing , however, is a completely different animal. It requires a special service provider, of which there are more than a dozen choices, such as AT&T and MCI Worldcom.

The engineering community has been especially partial to web-conferencing techniques, says Davis, because it accommodates the drawings and specifications engineers need to communicate properly. Through a web interface and simultaneous audio conference, engineers can view and discuss critical documents. That ability to share documents, according to Davis, is what is currently driving the success of the market, which he adds, is growing at a rate of 100% a year within the engineering industry.

One company that believes in the power of collaboration is National Semiconductor Corp. Like numerous other companies, this Santa Clara, Calif.-based company, is finding that a combination of conferencing tools is the real key to conducting a successful long-distance meeting.

"We set up a video conferencing call, but on a separate channel we set up a net meeting to actually do the collaboration work," says Gene Churchwell, a network engineer for National Semiconductor. "However, we're looking at newer equipment that will allow us to do this all on one line. Hopefully, in less than a year."

Travel trials

Additionally, since Sept. 11, electronic forms of conferencing have taken on an increased role at the company and replaced travel to an extent.

"What video/web conferencing does is facilitate five or six engineers in one place, and five or six in another," Churchwell says. "If you can have this many on each end collaborating, as opposed to the one or two that would be there if they were traveling, so you have more collaboration."

Also on the communications horizon for National Semiconductor is a more robust company intranet. According to Churchwell, the company is currently running Internet Protocol (IP) circuits from its Santa Clara headquarters to offices in the Asia-Pacific region, Europe and domestic sites. He is hoping to dedicate additional bandwidth to the current IP network and create an even greater quality of service.

Firms who aren't yet at this stage, but who are examining such technology, are quite surprised at the capabilities of audio/video conferencing today. According to Wainhouse's Davis, the cost is low and technology is the best it has ever been.

"If the travel option is going to cost $2,500, and conferencing is just $80, ask yourself, is it worth it?"

Correction: In "Value Engineering: Mistaken Identity?" (December 2001, p.58), federal regulations regarding value engineering were incorrectly given as FAR Parts 49 and 52. VE is governed by FAR Parts 48 and 52, as mentioned earlier in the article.





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