Until now, videoconferencing has largely been the purview of large organizations that have the capital and the technical staff to support it. But that could change, thanks to several different technological developments, argues VoIP Evolution analyst Robert Poe in a new report titled “SMB Videoconferencing: Getting Beyond Clouds & Interoperability.”

The cloud could be a key enabler
The rise of cloud-based videoconferencing solutions could be a key enabler for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs), which traditionally have not been able to afford the capability, said Poe in an interview. Traditionally enterprises have had to purchase cameras, also known as endpoints, and multi-conferencing units (MCUs) to support videoconferencing, Poe explained, but cloud-based conferencing eliminates the need for SMBs to purchase their own MCUs.

“All that a small company has to do is buy the endpoint,” said Poe.

Small businesses tend to be receptive to cloud-based services in general, Poe said—and videoconferencing may be no exception. “Small companies are beginning to get to the point [where they are] thinking if they don’t use videoconferencing, it will put them at a competitive disadvantage,” he added.

Typical cloud-based videoconferencing services entail a monthly fee, which may cover a certain number of users or a certain number of minutes, Poe explained. He cautioned, however, that not all cloud-based videoconferencing services are well suited for SMBs.

Some cloud services, he said, essentially put an MCU designed for large businesses and put it in the cloud. But “an enterprise solution isn’t necessarily perfect for an SMB,” he said.

The reason is that enterprise solutions often are based on a reservation-based model, in which the conference organizer reserves a bridge and alerts participants in advance, who connect with the bridge at the appointed time. These enterprise solutions may not support simple video calling, such as the consumer model used by Skype that enables users to connect one-to-one, rather than using a bridge—but Poe argues that SMBs may prefer a video calling approach.

He added that even if the MCU underlying a cloud-based service supports both reservation-based videoconferencing and one-to-one video calling, often there is no ability to escalate from calling to conferencing to bring in additional participants—a capability he believes is important to SMBs and perhaps to larger enterprises as well.

Cloud choices
Service providers contemplating offering cloud-based videoconferencing—and potential customers wanting to use such services—have several other critical choices to make as well, Poe said.

For example, while some cloud-based videoconferencing services run over the public Internet, at least one cloud-based videoconferencing supplier—Telesphere—offers videoconferencing bundled with an “end-to-end managed IP pipe,” Poe noted. Although some people say there is no problem using videoconferencing over the public Internet, Poe said that approach may not be ideal for some users.

Providers of cloud-based videoconferencing also have to determine what level of interoperability they will support. While some may restrict interconnectivity to a customer’s own locations, others claim to enable customers to interconnect with their own customers.

Poe is skeptical of how well that approach can be supported, however. “If it’s the customer’s customer, you no longer have access to the end user network and can’t deal with firewall issues as easily,” Poe observed.

Another choice involves whether the service provider should only offer videoconferencing or also support collaboration tools and other services, Poe said.