Video conferencing can be a lifesaver for businesses small and large, and old and new. Save on travel costs, consult with far flung experts or new clients, give your employees the freedom to work from home or hire an expert on the other side of the world. But, like all things technological, buggy video conferencing setups can quickly turn into a nightmare for everyone involved.
Setup Video conferencing in these 3 easy-to-follow setups
Know Your Needs
The first step to establishing a video conferencing setup is knowing your needs, in terms of both hardware and software. Any computer with a camera and a WiFi connection is capable of video conferencing, but just any computer (and just any connection) might not be the best choice.
Before you start streaming video, be sure to familiarize yourself with the specifications of your network, and how much bandwidth it’s prepared to handle. For normal-to-low resolution video, a connection speed of 384 kbps (kilobytes per second) will suit your needs just fine. If you want higher resolution (720 p and up), you’ll need a connection speed of at least 1024 kbps. Microsoft and Apple both offer free, easy-to-use tools for calculating and predicting bandwidth usage, which are invaluable in deciding whether or not your current network is equipped to handle frequent video streaming.
You should be able to set up a video network without purchasing new equipment, unless your office computers lack built in cameras. One purchase you should avoid is an MCU, or Multipoint Control Unit. Some older network setups, based on telephone systems, still require MCUs when there are three or more participants in a call. MCUs are expensive, custom-built electronics with a reputation for having more bugs than an anthill, and fortunately they’re mostly obsolete. The development of cloud-based services like BlueJeans have moved the MCU entirely online: avoid any software or network plan that requires you to purchase one.
Select your Software
Once you’ve familiarized yourself with the status of your network and the strain video conferencing is likely to place on it, it’s time to pick a software package. While many video-conferencing platforms come with useful features like document sharing and virtual whiteboards that let call participants workshop problems, don’t let yourself be distracted by fancy features. The most important things to look for in video conferencing platforms are reliability and compatibility. If most of your call participants will be outside clients, compatibility is especially important: you need a platform that will work on any computer and any operating system your client happens to run. For the broadest compatibility, you’ll be best served by a browser-based system that won’t require your client to download or troubleshoot anything: all they need is a link to the virtual conference room.
If most of your calling is within your office, between employees, consider a desktop service. Browser-based services have wider compatibility, but desktop-based services are more customizable, and work well for inter-office communications.
Reducing Potential Pitfalls
Sooner or later, every discussion of the pros and cons of video conferencing boils down to one thing: the reliability of the technology. Selecting a high-quality service will go a long way to reducing those potential problems, like lag times and compatibility issues. Look for a service with good customer support as well: free-to-download video services are tempting, but they can often be a customer service nightmare when technical problems arise. A small fee is well worth it if it means you’ll be able to get the support you need when setting up and troubleshooting a network.
More flexible software will be easier to integrate into your current network setup as well. For example, if your office needs to conserve bandwidth, Blue Jeans desktop video will use less data running off an employee’s hard drive. However, if a computer’s processing power is the problem, you can switch to the browser-based version to give the hard drive a break, and still have a program that runs quickly and smoothly.
You can save yourself and your network administrator a lot of gray hairs by clearly establishing the capabilities of your network and your hard drive, and then selecting a software package that’s flexible enough to work within those limitations.
The prospect of setting up any new technology can be daunting, let alone something as complex as a video conferencing network. It can be hard to know where to begin, but once you know what you need, it’s easy to find a video conferencing service that will work for you, not against you. We call them services for a reason: let them serve you!