The business world has passionately embraced mobile devices to the point where laptops and smartphones have become our main business communication tools. And so it should come as no surprise that, as society becomes increasingly mobile, and as video conferencing also becomes more ubiquitous, we expect even more from our mobile devices.
If you're interested in making video conferencing more mobile, you'll find a number of solutions available for small business. But you need to carefully weigh the limitations of mobile devices against the features that video participants want.
Challenge: Make Video Conferencing Work in a Mobile World
The main obstacle to video conferencing on a mobile device is managing the intersection of bandwidth requirements and available network connections. Mobile meeting participants are often in environments where they can't control the Internet connection (in a hotel room, a coffee shop, etc.).
"With mobile, you can experience video up to 360p resolution. In terms of bandwidth, "this requires about a minimum of 640kpbs, which means you can only experience it on Wi-Fi and potentially 4G networks," explains Melody Kee, senior group manager, cloud collaboration product marketing at Cisco Systems, which owns WebEx online collaboration, meeting, and video conferencing solutions.
Without that connection level, Kee says that mobile video conference attendees will be relegated to a lower resolution. This is a particular problem where 3G networks are the only available connection. "Cellular networks do not typically give you the resources required for high quality video," she says.
Remember, too, that all that data may come with a price. "Most mobile users have data limits on their cell phone plans, starting at about 2GB per month," says Jeff Beckham, product marketing manager at Blue Jeans Network, a cloud-based conferencing service provider. "If you attend a lot of video conferences, data limits can be a concern because nobody wants to pay overage fees." Finding a business-grade solution that balances good resolution with low data consumption is important, especially as small businesses add employees and must support more mobile users.
The primary hurdle a small business faces when it decides to implement mobile video conferencing, is finding a product that delivers enterprise-level features. Applications aimed at the consumer market may provide a good conferencing experience, but they often don't have the security standards or features many businesses require.
"Additionally, they don't integrate with the broader range of video conferencing-capable devices—including computers and group video systems that let multiple people participate from the same conference room," says Beckham.
Choosing Mobile Video Conferencing Features
Small businesses interested in mobile video conferencing should look for a handful of features to get them started in the right direction. A platform should let you and your employees leverage commonly used controls, such as pinch-to-zoom to focus in on particular portions of a presentation, as well as tapping or swiping to manage audio and layout controls.
"Beyond the in-app features, it's important that a small business owner look for a video conferencing solution that has the capacity to support a staff meeting, or a company-wide all-hands meeting," Beckham says. That could mean having dozens of simultaneous users (or more) and everything that comes along with holding a potentially complex event.
"These kinds of meetings are most productive when you can have features such as moderator controls (to mute participants, for example), content sharing, meeting recording, in-meeting chat, and other collaboration capabilities," Beckham says.
Small businesses will find some device-based features particularly helpful, such as the ability to view full-screen video and other actions that maximize mobile devices' smaller screens. "The amount of screen real estate on mobile devices is obviously helpful and will let you see more video images," Kee says. "In particular, when viewing video and content simultaneously, it's better to have a larger screen."
No matter the size of the device's screen, good video conferencing platforms provide some core usability designed around mobile hardware and its limitations. The features Kee says that mobile video participants will find most useful include the "ability to view full screen video, scroll through the panel of video participants, [and] easily turn on\off video." This gives people the control and flexibility to fine tune their experience to match their device's capabilities.
Tips for Deploying Mobile Video Conferencing
Kee advises small businesses to zero in on mobile video conferencing solutions that support all mobile platforms. "And make sure to have the vendor prove it by demonstrating it, and then download the app and experience it on each platform yourself," she adds.
Your small business might use only one type of device or one flavor of mobile OS, but clients and external business partners attending these video meetings may have other requirements. "You want to make sure everyone can join your meeting, regardless of device preference," Kee says.
For business owners who rely heavily on a laptop or desktop and remain skeptical of mobile video conferencing's value, Beckham suggests stepping away from the computer for a day and using only mobile devices. "With all the apps out there today, including calendaring, to-do lists, email, video conferencing, and more, you will be amazed at how productive you can be," he says.
More Mobile Video Conferencing Providers
Here are four more video conferencing providers for your consideration and research.
Julie Knudson is a freelance writer whose articles have appeared in technology magazines including BizTech, Processor, and For The Record. She has covered technology issues for publications in other industries, from foodservice to insurance, and she also writes a recurring column in Integrated Systems Contractor magazine.
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