Video Is Not The New Voice

I spent some time last week with a networking vendor who demonstrated to us their voice system. Only it wasn’t about phones. Or dial plans. Or even voicemail. The demo was more like…”Yeah, yeah. Voice, phones, voicemail, SRST. Blah, blah, blah. That’s boring. It’s all about *collaboration* now.” The majority of the demo was about instant messaging integration, mail system integration, ring-everywhere, etc. And video. Oh my. Video. They talked about video like it’s the revolution that’s going to save remote workers from the ignominy of having to work outside of that much loved bastion of productivity, the cubicle. Right. If I never saw my cubicle again, I’d wake up a happier man.

Video on your iPhone. Video on your iPad. Video on your Android. Video with your IM client. Video-capable phones that sit on your desk. Fancy HD video phones with largish screens that could still sit on your desk. You’d think the world couldn’t communicate without seeing one another’s ugly faces.

Here’s my two cents. Video is not the new voice. I don’t want it. I don’t need it. I’ve lived quite a long time without it. While I can see some value in an HD conference room where remote participants seem to be in the room with you, I don’t get this “video everywhere” idea. Being able to see people remotely is fun. A novelty. Or put another way…video is more of a toy and less of a business need. Something to stroke the ego of executives who think they need to see and be seen every time they open their mouths. I don’t see the business problem video solves, or we’d have had it sooner. I installed video conferencing gear over a decade ago. It’s not like the technology is new.

On the other hand, I do see problems ubiquitous video could create.

  • Hardware upgrades required. Phone with cameras. Phones with screens. Cameras for workstations that don’t have one built-in. $.
  • Software upgrades required and/or license upgrades required. $.
  • Bandwidth upgrades required. No matter how you slice it, video eats bits. Start pumping video across the wide area, and you’ll eat those expensive bits faster. Much faster, especially if you try to crank up the stream quality. So getcha a bigger pipe. Oh, and maybe a bigger router to go with it, because that 27xx terminating that T1/E1 you’ve been hanging onto maybe ain’t gonna cut it anymore. $.
  • QoS challenges. So you finally sorted out QoS for your audio streams, and don’t have that many call quality complaints now. Great! Welcome to video, where you can work on that same project again. Not that bad, those of you that have done it? Well, there must be something to it. Cisco didn’t come up with Medianet because of how straightforward the issues are to overcome.
  • Client challenges. I can hear it now…my IM client can’t use my camera because something else is using it! What do I do? Etc. Bah. Who needs that sort of a support headache?

You know that Skype includes free video, right? How often do I use it? Let me see…almost never. Why? I don’t need to see who I’m talking to, and most of the time, I’m multitasking anyway. I’m not even looking at them. Plus…cameras are never aimed quite right. When you are looking at the remote video, the person on the other side is almost never looking AT you. They are looking off to the side, or down at their keyboard, whatever. It’s more like voyeurism then having a face-to-face conversation.

Seriously. We can live without video everywhere. And I’m betting most businesses are going to feel the same way.

Am I missing it? Is video *all that*?

Ethan Banks
Ethan Banks, CCIE #20655, has been managing networks for higher ed, government, financials and high tech since 1995. Ethan co-hosts the Packet Pushers Podcast, which has seen over 2M downloads and reaches over 10K listeners. With whatever time is left, Ethan writes for fun & profit, studies for certifications, and enjoys science fiction. @ecbanks
Ethan Banks
Ethan Banks
  • http://twitter.com/ioshints ioshints

    You answered your question in the first three $$$-focused bullet points. Everyone wants to sell you more gear/bandwidth/software/whatever … and so they try to generate perceived needs at the C-level.

  • http://showbrain.blogspot.com Ben Story

    Great, so my next few months trying to get a short list of phone vendors I will be beating off crap I don’t want.  

  • Anonymous

    Just wait until everyone wants their own Enterprise communicator thingies. Wireless + Voice + Transporter. Can’t wait to debug the problems with that.

    But on a serious note, I do think video is very likely to change a lot of things. It’s benefit in areas like remote medical attention and diagnosis is great indeed.

     However, I do think the ‘video throughout the company’ scenario you describe is both bloated and not likely to be worth the cost in time and money versus very little , if any, gain in productivity.

  • Romans Fomicevs

    Also I’m generally agree with your opinion on the subject here, as well as with @ioshints  on this matter, there is one point in video. Nowadays, when you work more and more remotely, even without ever meeting peers you are working with, video can be that thing which make you “closer” to the team you work with.
    Yesterday we used to rely on photos of our colleagues found in corp address book to make opinion on the person we are dealing with. Now we can broaden our experience with video – you see how he/she moves, facial mimics etc, etc. 
    It is clear, that we don’t have to make every call “video call” from now on, but sometimes, especially in situations, when in real meeting you would heavily utilize your skills of “reading people”, video can make a point.

  • Adam Melong

    I miss the days when Windows booted in under 30 seconds. Things had to be efficient due to actual limitations. Now a days, people simple bloat everything, then try to restrict.  Waste of time and resource, and never works as expected. We need to go back to functional and banal. Say no to features and wasting money, say yes to working and efficient!

  • Jsicuran

    Video will become more of a consumer “killer app” as consumers want more video provided by 4g and wifi. This will start to come into the enterprise just as all the other consumer apps and devices.

  • http://twitter.com/yelfathi Youssef El Fathi

    For businesses the desktop sharing is more valuable than video and in crisis period we better have to put our money in other fields, just my 2 cents

  • Fernando Montenegro

    I think you nailed it when you said that ”
    I don’t see the business problem video solves, or we’d have had it sooner. ” Ivan’s comment is also spot on, from a different perspective.
    To me, video is nice for the consumer – my parents love seeing the grandkids – but “video everywhere” in a business setting is an interruption too far. “Doing video” asks for a bigger commitment than a phone call, or an email, or IM, and business gets along very nicely without it now.I like the idea of placing the onus of determining the ROI for video on whoever suggests it. From an infrastructure perspective, just have a budgetary number ready for the kind of upgrades they’d need. Might be a nice way to sneak in useful-but-unloved upgrades in there too :-)

  • Alex White-Robinson

    I’ve found that every video conference winds up as a document sharing screen + audio stream anyway. I don’t get the attraction.

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