Videoconferencing Progression – As compared to cell phone progression

It’s hard to believe that the first cell phone call was made forty years ago in 1973.  A Motorola engineer by the name of Marty Cooper called Joel Engel, a colleague at Bell Labs, and said, “Joel this is Marty. I’m calling you from a cell phone — a real handheld portable cell phone.”  Fast forward 20 years from that first cell phone call and many of you may be old enough to remember the first hand held mobile phone, known as “The Brick” by Motorola. This was the beginning of the migration away from mounted and fixed cell phones in our cars, to the pocket size smart phone we now take for granted.

Motorola_Brick_Phone_Video_Cell_PhoneEarly adapters paid a premium for the privilege of having the great flexibility of the Motorola hand held cell phone.  “The Brick” weighted over 2 pounds, cost thousands for dollars and had a battery life of 35 minutes. In spite of this, cell phone technology exploded with great creativity and technological advancement.  There are many reasons for this accelerated advancement.  One big reason was the cell network and cell towers that connected seamlessly to land based phones.  Users didn’t worry or think about how they called, they simply dialed any number and connected.  Early in cell phone development the only constraint was a limited cell tower footprint — later this became a moot point.

By comparison, videoconferencing had a fundamental disadvantage as it developed. Early on manufacturers produced products that work in proprietary algorithms.  Early adapters were forced to buy brand A or band X as these systems would only connect within each manufacture’s own family of products.  Customers using the equipment experienced low use and a limited or no return on investment.  Additionally they connected on cumbersome networks through the phone company’s Central Office on a dedicated circuit.   Proprietary algorithms stunted the development of videoconferencing and thus it did not have the quick and explosive advancement as seen in cell phone technology.   Videoconferencing development was a slow and expensive slog forward.  Today just about all of the early manufactures are out of business.

Videoconferencing advancement started to get traction in the late 90’s only after the ITU, (International Telecommunications Union), established the standard algorithms.  Once this happened manufacturers were free to build in this standard on a more competitive level.  The clunky $65,000 dollar proprietary “legacy” videoconferencing system was quickly replaced by the $8,000 dollar “set-top” unit built on the new ITU algorithm standards. The computer was eliminated from the CODEC and video conferencing quickly evolved into an appliance similar to your VoIP phone.

Today we are full circle and ironically videoconferencing in now part of your cell phone or smart phone.  However, as they say — history repeats itself.   Now we have a variety of videoconferencing apps for the iPad, iPhone and Droid.   Guess what! – Most of these apps work through proprietary algorithms, the same scenario that stunted the development of videoconferencing in the first place.  This writer believes the applications that don’t adapt to the ITU standard will eventually collapse in the market place.

Let’s go back to the cell phone comparison.  If you are subscribing to or purchasing a videoconferencing app for your cell phone and it does not work within the ITU standard, it’s like selling you cell phone service and saying to you, “It will only connect to those with the same model cell phone and same service provider.” Would you buy that cell phone or cell phone service?  — Nobody would.

It’s the same for your computer.  For example WeBex and GoToMeeting both do videoconferencing, but they cannot connect to each other or connect to the videoconferencing standard.  Although they work great now, inevitably these business models will collapse.  Currently it’s very easy to videoconference and share content through any system through the ITU standard.  Users don’t have to worry about what service is being used.  There are videoconferencing apps that seamlessly connect to the standard.  I can make a video call from my cell phone right to the board room with a standards based videoconferencing CODEC, and the boardroom can share content right to my cell phone.  In the end the last apps standing will be on the ITU standard and history repeats again as it always does in technology.





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