Videoconferencing Interop: More Important Than Ever
Interoperability is a checkmark item for serious users of today's cloud videoconferencing solutions and is the key to unlocking the true potential of visual communications. Large, medium, or small, any business today requires a solution that works well with their pre-existing tools, as well as the tools of their partners and customers.
hat Should Today’s Business Users Look for in a Cloud Solution?
We may ask, if user demand for interop is such a given, and has been for such a long time, why is it still such a challenge? Why hasn't the problem been eliminated from all video communications by now? And most importantly, what do today's business video users need to look for in terms of interop, when choosing a cloud video solution?
To start, we need to understand that the main challenge today is NOT interoperability within the VC industry (e.g. SIP to H323). The difficulty is connecting the traditional VC industry to emerging, internet solutions like Skype, Google Hangouts, and countless others. The problem is due to a fundamental difference between the two worlds.
In the early days of videoconferencing development, the engineers came from the telecommunication world. Working with “standards” was in their DNA and so video protocol standardization soon followed the telecom model. The technology may have moved a bit faster than the standards making process at times, but everyone was on the same basic page. The result, in my experience at the Wainhouse VC Test Lab 10 years ago, was that basic calls worked between the major vendors, with occasional issues around cutting edge features.
On the other hand, for emerging internet solutions it can be the wild wild west, as there is nothing to prevent a startup, or even an established player, from creating a proprietary solution that only talks to itself. The obvious example was Skype in its early years, which did not connect to anything other than Skype. The idea of calling from a boardroom system, to someone on Skype (or a Skype-like service) was simply impossible until recent years.
The Demand for True Interoperability
Fortunately, in those early days the world wasn't ready for true VC interop. External video calls to partners or clients wasn't part of our culture yet. The network guys weren't ready to support or allow it, and there weren't enough people using video for it to be worth the effort. For many years, videoconferencing was a primarily internal communications device, with the archetypical call connecting a company's headquarters to its satellite offices. But this state of affairs could only exist for so long.
It was only a matter of time before users would demand true interop. Even for internal only video users, interop soon became a very important to connect with remote workers and traveling team members. As users of VC technology became more aware of its benefits, in part due to home use of consumer video offerings, they became less satisfied limiting those benefits to internal only communications.
About 10 years ago interop support started to gain a lot of buzz in the industry and became a key differentiator in VC platforms. In the early days, even something as simple as including H.323 and SIP in the same call could require a special “gateway” device. Eventually, this functionality was added to video bridges themselves. It was such a popular and powerful feature that many video bridges were sold based on their ability to provide these kinds of connections.
Cloud Has Become Synonymous with Interop
However, as stated above, users started clamoring for real interop. We wanted external call support. We started to ask, "Where is the business to business video?" Unfortunately, we still had some hurdles to overcome, such as firewall and network challenges. One answer came from the cloud. It turns out that a great way to provide interop support, while answering other B2B issues, was the cloud. This was a huge game changer, as the cloud allows all parties to safely dial into neutral territory without compromising anyone's protected network. As a result of this history, cloud video has become almost synonymous with video interop, and remained incredibly important to users.
It really shouldn't be a surprise that today's VC users are looking for their cloud offerings to provide exceptional interop support. After all, they want to continue to enjoy ROI from their legacy deployments, while being able to easily connect to new partners and customers. As more and more video vendors and providers enter the market, the need to connect everything easily together becomes even greater.
While the term "interop" itself is still subject to misuse and mixed definitions, it is generally used in the following two contexts.
Service Interop: This is the protocol to protocol, or service to service interop which is so crucial in connecting traditional business video deployments to the flexible and popular internet offerings that workers are clamoring to use. It is particularly essential to large enterprises that still have and enjoy massive legacy deployments and want to be able to call in using a wide variety of old and new endpoints and apps.
Device Interop: This is another way to look at "guest caller" support for a video platform. A solution's client or app should work easily on all desktop and mobile devices. Some may see this is a bit of a cheat. It isn't true interop if you ask me to call you using your app on my device. True interop would let me call into your meeting using my app of choice. But whether we call it device interop, or guest invite capabilities, it is an increasingly important part of expanding the reach of a VC environment.
When choosing a cloud video platform, be sure to look carefully at both types of interop as well as the level of interop support. For example, if a call can simply connect that may count as interop, but you need to ask if all features, such as screen sharing, are supported between protocols. Obviously, you should have a list of the endpoints, apps, and services that you anticipate your users wanting to connect with, and be sure to pick a cloud interop service with particularly strong support for your listed choices. Finally, you should look into a platforms "device interop" to ensure that outsides guests will have an easy experience making that first call.
Unlocking the Potential
Trends come and go in the VC industry, and "interop" may no longer be the hot buzzword that it was 5-10 years ago. But it is no less important a consideration when choosing a VC platform. Unless you only plan on talking to yourself, take some time and ask some questions about interop when you are choosing your next VC offering.