February 13, 2001, 1:52 PM — Teleworkers, don't start dressing for the office camera just yet.
While desktop videoconferencing is enjoying heightened interest in corporations, its tentacles will be slow to reach at-home workers, according to experts.
The limiting factors include availability of bandwidth, security, management and cultural issues that make the technology a hard sell beyond corporate headquarters. But recent advancements, most notably affordable, plug-and-play desktop videoconferencing units, have made wiring PCs for sight and sound much easier. Because the technology moves over IP using the H.323 standard, it's Internet -- and thus remote worker -- ready. But even companies that rely heavily on videoconferencing are evaluating desktop systems on a case-by-case basis.
Glen Miller, global manager for video communications for Pharmacia, has been deploying conference room videoconferencing systems for 20 years. The 10th- largest pharmaceutical company, Pharmacia has 60,000 employees spread across 60 countries, and as such deems videoconferencing its "global productivity tool" for conducting geographically dispersed meetings. On opening its new headquarters in Peapack, N.J., the company equipped the facility's 56 conference rooms for video, bringing the company's total number of video-equipped meeting rooms to 300.
Even so, Miller has deployed only 100 desktop video systems, and only a half dozen of those to home workers, mostly executives or researchers.
Wiring the at-home workers was a chore, Miller says. Because the company only works with digital systems, Miller and his staff had to make sure workers could provision ISDN service. Then they had to visit each worker's home to set up the system. "We only give it to those people who show a business need," he says.
While the availability of DSL and cable services is helping spur market growth, several factors still prevent desktop videoconferencing from reaching its potential, says Christine Perey, president of Perey Consulting, which focuses on the videoconferencing market. "[Asymmetric DSL] has a low-bandwidth upload that means poor video performance," Perey says.
Another issue is that desktop videoconferencing is intrusive, and participants are too small on the screen. "It's too close for what is considered normal personal space," Perey says. "And while I believe in the long-term viability of videoconferencing, I don't think it is going to happen in a two-inch [square] window."
However, viability is being boosted by new features and falling prices. Recently, desktop videoconferencing market leaders Polycom and VCon each introduced Universal Serial Bus plug-and-play units, and Sorenson Technologies also offers a USB unit called EnVision.
"With USB, you no longer have to crack open the computer case and install a PCI card in the PC," says VCon's Senior Vice President of Global Marketing Gordon Daugherty.