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Also posted on: The Norfolk Punt
I’ve always liked video conferencing, as opposed to a simple conference call via Skype or GoToMeeting with video. What’s the difference? Well, to me, video conferencing is specialised for a good collaboration experience, usually with dedicated equipment, private servers – and with comfortable rooms, with big screens. A conference call is good enough for a team conversation.
Obviously, there’s a continuum here, but the key characteristic of ‘real’ video conferencing, in my opinion, is that the technology doesn’t get in the way; and that you’d organise a video conference involving your CEO or best customer, without feeling that your career was at risk. The downside is that it is usually “reassuringly expensive”. On the other hand, although Skype, GoToMeeting, Webex and other conferencing apps on my iPad are cheap and effective, they are really rather technology-oriented and don’t always deliver a great experience.
My iPad now has a new conferencing app originating from Russia, called TrueConf (from a company founded in 2004 by Moscow State Uni comp. sci. grads). This accesses a software-based video conferencing server designed to build private video conferencing infrastructure for companies of any size.
Being private, quality of service and confidentiality is comparatively easy to achieve. TrueConf’s biggest customers are the Russian and Ukrainian government and public services, so I presume that confidentiality can be good, and it is now expanding worldwide. It is self-funded. profitable and privately owned.
I talked to Lev Yakupov (its Marketing Director) in Moscow using TrueConf and the experience seems good (although we were using the Internet, not private servers, so there were occasional glitches). I don’t have space for a detailed review, but the technology and capability seems effective, probably for less money than other private conferencing systems: it sees its competition as Vidyo and Microsoft Lync. Its customers outside of Russia and Ukraine include Karcher, Huawei and Nestle.
Its ‘special sauce’ includes a built-in SIP gateway, RTSP support, WebRTC support – and a specialist ($2,995) videoconferencing touchscreen terminal system (all-inclusive, with full HD display and appropriate touch panel, camera, and speaker phone), if you want to set up a dedicated video conferencing suite, with proper lighting and sound.
Recent innovations include a TrueConf Directory (to support multiple TrueConf servers and link in users on other networks) and a Linux application (Ubuntu and Debian, so far).
On the whole, if you are serious about video conferencing as part of your business model, I think that TrueConf is worth a look (it will be at ISE 2014 in February, in Amsterdam). Just don’t forget that successful collaboration using video conferencing is about culture as much as technology; and that you probably need to instigate relationships face-to-face and then maintain them with video conferencing.
And, when you are convincing your US CEO that meeting the Paris customers over video will be extremely cost effective, always remember that your CEO’s partner may have been looking forward to that Paris trip.