What Is WebEx Telepresence? How do WebEx and Telepresence come together?
WebEx is a program that runs on your browser allowing you to collaborate on-demand with other people. The original WebEx program consisted of voice capabilities and content sharing. It allowed users to have a voice conversation while simultaneously sharing whatever was on their PC screen with the other users on the WebEx call. You can incorporate Webex into many different workplace designs if you plan accordingly and have the right partner to install them.
Cisco bought WebEx in 2007 and has continued to enhance its capabilities, by adding key features, such as video, and by developing a whole suite of WebEx products. These products take the same basic capability of WebEx and specialize it for different kinds of online meetings – Webinars, Support, Training, etc. Each of these meeting environments is a little different and works best with a customized set of tools to manage the online meeting.
Telepresence is the name given to the most life-like video conferencing implementation, which is the closest video conferencing implementation to “being there”. The size of the video images are life-like and the audio quality is superb making it seem like you are sitting across the table from the people you are meeting with, even though they are in a different part of the world.
With two great products – WebEx and Telepresence, it was natural that people would soon ask for the two to be able to connect to each other. Last year, Cisco introduced an update to their Telepresence solutions called WebEx Telepresence.
So now callers in a video conferencing enabled room can connect via video with remote participants who are using WebEx video.
WebEx Telepresence allows participants in WebEx meetings to connect via video with participants using Telepresence video conferencing endpoints (traditional H.323 and SIP videoconferencing). Standard room based videoconferencing systems use H.323 or SIP as the protocol to connect rooms and control the call. Traditional manufacturers, like Cisco and Polycom, use these protocols. WebEx on the other hand, uses a proprietary protocol that is unable to directly communicate with traditional room systems.
What is the big deal with integrating one video technology with another?
Many videoconferencing industry insiders envision a future where video conferencing is ubiquitous. They believe that it will replace voice as the main real-time communications tool in the not too distant future. However, one of the main roadblocks preventing this is interconnectivity between video systems. The interconnectivity problem is that different technologies are using different protocols (languages) and until they either all speak the same language or translate the protocols between them seamlessly they can’t talk to each other. I doubt that cell phones would have ever exploded 20 years ago, if users on the AT&T network couldn’t call Verizon customers or if Android phones could only call other Android phones.
To your average user, particularly those who use consumer video conferencing technologies like FaceTime and Skype, this seems like a straightforward task to accomplish.
“If I can FaceTime with Mom to wish her a Merry Christmas from the beach in Costa Rica, surely an enterprise boardroom should be able to make a video call to a PC based video desktop, particularly if they are both using Cisco products”
But we also know that Skype users can’t connect with FaceTime users – different protocols. Those of us in the business know that getting all the video technologies to work together is easier said than done. It took Cisco almost four years since the acquisition of Tandberg in 2010 to get WebEx to talk to their Telepresence systems, resulting in the launch of WebEx Telepresence.
Why is it important?
I have many different clients who have been eagerly waiting for this capability. Some are educational institutions who want to leverage existing rooms, equipped with HD cameras, codecs and audio systems, to collaborate with research partners who could be located anywhere in the world and equipped only with a laptop.
Others are large enterprises that want to connect individual employees in remote locations with groups in central locations, who have access to video conferencing enabled boardrooms.
Sure there are many ways to tackle these requirements with different technologies, but when you have already made an investment in videoconferencing enabled rooms, infrastructure and WebEx, it makes a lot of sense to be able to connect them together.
WebEx has an excellent reputation for providing desktop web conferencing and superior audio conferencing capabilities. The addition of WebEx Telepresence means that these features can now be added to the high end video call experience. Unlimited audio users can also join a video call from anywhere in the world, be it from a phone or desktop computer. This new capability also means that iPad users can now join a video call on a Cisco system with high resolution video.
What is required?
In order to implement WebEx Telepresence you will need to have the following infrastructure, at the right release levels:
- Cisco TMS Scheduler: This component schedules the required resources, users can schedule a meeting, invite other users and select the required resources (like a videoconferencing room).
- Cisco MCU: This is the bridge, it connects the different endpoints together (room systems, WebEx desktops)
- VCS Control/Expressway: This provides firewall traversal, so users can make calls outside of their network and translates between different protocols, like H.323 and SIP
WebEx Telepresence offers a great way to connect two powerful collaboration worlds – WebEx and Telepresence. WebEx Telepresence solves one particular problem; connecting remote WebEx based videoconferencing participants with Telepresence room based systems.
Whether or not WebEx Telepresence makes sense for your organization will largely depend on what you are starting with or your current infrastructure. If you already have Cisco video infrastructure and are using WebEx then it’s definitely worth looking at combining the two together to create an even more powerful collaboration environment.
Allowing different videoconferencing systems to communicate is a positive step towards ubiquitous videoconferencing.
What Conferencing Technologies Should be Available in Our Meeting Rooms?
We recently received an honest attempt by an organization to better understand the conferencing technology solutions available in today’s marketplace via a Request For Information (RFI). Interestingly enough, it was a relatively blank canvas asking for:
- Inventive solutions to provide high quality teleconferencing abilities for meetings and
- The ability to offer interactive webinars as an educational tool.
This is a great opportunity for us to educate and share the collaborative solutions the organization has available to them. And in this case, the blank canvas allows us to provide a multitude of solutions.
The Organization and Their Business Problem
The organization currently has meeting rooms across the province that hold over 30 people. Each room is equipped with a poor quality audio solution and they are unable to effectively connect their internal and external stakeholders using these rooms via teleconference today. They would also like to be able to do remote training. Today that can only be done through self-study materials.
The Organization’s Requirements:
- To conduct training remotely using leading edge collaborative technologies
- The only room specification provided is that a round table seats up to 35 people
- They are interested in “teleconferencing,” “webinars” and it would be nice to have distance education
This approach could result in a wide variety of responses.
Will the solutions presented meet their needs? Do they really know what they want and do they know what technology is available?
I think the answer to each of these questions is “No”.
The focus will likely be low cost approaches to upgrade their audio phones in the rooms and offerings such as WebEx or GoToMeeting. But do these solutions really give the organization the high quality teleconferencing experience they are seeking?
The Risk of Using an RFI to Educate
This organization is trying to use a purchasing vehicle to educate themselves on the products available. This method is really a “hit and miss” approach because it depends on who in the marketplace takes the time to educate them on their choices by responding to their RFI. Typically, the best price wins in an RFI unless your proposal stands out for other reasons. To make your proposal stand out, you need to really understand your buyer’s needs.
You also need a buyer who is open to suggestions and has a good understanding of their needs.
But if the organization doesn’t know what they are looking for, how will they know when a really good solution is offered?
Finding a Solution for Connecting People
Using technology to connect people is a common-place activity however the sheer number of options available to do this is absolutely mind-boggling and getting clarity on a solution is difficult to achieve.
At a high level, organizations are looking to connect room systems and individuals together over distance for real-time communication.
3 possible combinations are:
- Room system to Room system(s)
- Room system to Individual(s)
- Individual to Individual(s)
Deciding which of these conferencing technologies are required for connecting over distance is critical in determining the level of collaboration that can be achieved.
The Velocity of Collaboration
Each of these different conferencing technologies brings a different dimension of richness to the collaborative experience. Frost & Sullivan wrote a very insightful whitepaper a few years ago about the “Velocity of Collaboration”. It was a sponsored whitepaper so it had some biases in it but the conceptual model was eye opening. They spoke about 6 different real-time conferencing modalities (if you boil it down there are really only the 4 above – unless you add in virtual world collaboration, which is only used at the fringes).
Never-the-less, the Velocity of Collaboration model is very useful and we have adapted it to consider the four conferencing modalities. Part II of this blog will detail this adapted Velocity of Collaboration model.
Once requirements for user based collaboration capability are determined, you can select the meeting room technologies and the individuals connecting into conferences. This process is critical. It avoids wasted effort and brings a cohesive approach to the technology roadmap your organization requires. By turning the patchwork of technology found in most organizations into a tapestry of technology, you’ve created an enabler to greater collaboration within the organization.
The ET Group has helped many organizations through this process. Please contact us if we can be of assistance to your organization.