The Myth of Video Conferencing

I am writing this column with a sense of guilt. And, a bit of disillusionment

In the past, several times, we have written about video-conferencing and the
great things it can do. And, also, given examples of its applications in real
life. In fact, Sam Pitroda delivered his acceptance speech for the DATAQUEST
Lifetime Achievement with the help of video-conferencing, and, recently,
President Abdul Kalam addressed NASSCOM using the same.

Recently, we tried to get a prominent speaker from IIM Ahmedabad to deliver
his 20-min keynote address over video-conference. And that is when our pains
began. We first contacted the hotel, asking if they could organize it. Their
response: we can only provide telecom links, but you need to get a service
provider for the end-to-end service. Then we contacted several service
providers. They said they’ll get the links between Delhi and Ahmedabad
organized, but we need to organize the end-user video-conferencing equipment.

co-ordination needed between various parties, that together provide
video-conferencing, is too irritating and time consuming to handle.
The costs too are prohibitive

On top of this confusion, everybody kept quoting different rates-from Rs
15,000 to Rs 75,000-for this 20-min service. If one wanted to know the
rationale behind this huge price, there was none. All we were told was that this
is a very special and a very costly service. Even at such exorbitant costs, when
we agreed to go ahead, we discovered that there is a huge amount of
co-ordination that needs to be done between all the parties-the location of
the speaker, the hotel where the speech and presentation would be delivered, the
telecom operator who will provide the link, the end-equipment vendor on which
all this will work, and the service provider who will put all this together.
Even though the professor at IIM was very understanding and accommodative, we
gave up.

For those who are pushing video-conferencing, this will not be a very nice
story. But I am sure they will take it as a constructive feedback. In fact,
after this experience I spoke to a couple of large companies, who use
video-conferencing, and they shared similar feelings.

One may want to know what the big fuss over video-conferencing is about.
Video-conferencing is being touted as a technology that will revolutionize
almost everything. Distance education, with the help of video conferencing, will
make thousands of villages across the country literate. Health and medical
services will be provided, again thanks to video-conferencing, to millions of
people in far-flung areas. Ministers will be able to keep in touch with the
masses with video-conferencing. Evangelists even talk of how the corporate world
will really be able to cut down on travel, thanks to video conferencing.

The moral of the story is simple. All stake holders in the video conferencing
business need to pull up their socks. They need to work out end to end
solutions, and offer them at costs which are viable. Current prices are simply
too high.

Finally, I would not wait for the industry to get the business of
video-conferencing in order. Considering the big e-Governance plans that the
Government of India has, so that it can deliver good governance to common people
and create 70 mn jobs, I would strongly urge the Government to promote it. There
should be special incentives to promote this service. There should be large
scale deployment plans to make it more cost-effective. And, finally, as someone
said, "The biggest benefit that I see of video-conferencing is that there
would be less people spending time on roads running from one office to another,
causing pollution and stress. And these people will spend more quality time at
offices and home."

The author is Editor of Dataquest Ibrahim

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