LAS VEGAS -- At the Cisco Networkers annual customer conference, the message was loud and clear: The network is no longer about transport but about enabling communications and productivity. This, for many network engineers, will include supporting video in large amounts.
In his opening keynote speech and during a later press conference, CEO John Chambers described collaborative communications moving beyond unified messaging and business applications into something called "telepresence," a set of real-time video applications that will allow users to virtually experience events in multiple formats according to their preference. Today, many corporations and consumers are using video on demand, he said, but that will quickly transition to collaborative real-time video and culminate in telepresence, which will dramatically increase bandwidth needs. "I'm going to bet there will be a 200% increase in network loads over the next two years," Chambers predicted.
The retail entertainment market is where video has perhaps made the greatest inroads to date. Virgin Megastores has long offered customers the ability to play music clips at store kiosks, but the company is now upgrading the kiosks into listening stations, said Robert Fort, IT director for Virgin Entertainment Group. The stations, which will be rolled out in 17 stores across the U.S., are interactive and play video on demand pulled from a centralized data warehouse in real time.
Fort sees great potential in the kiosks, which in the future may be able to use presence technology to recognize the listener and offer him appropriate merchandise or allow him to order and pay for purchases instantly.
"Video can really enhance the customer experience," Fort said. His stores often host live music performances, which he hopes to simulcast in other store locations. He also plans to migrate teleconferences between store managers to videoconferencing in the near future.
Part of that service includes a videoconferencing option for arraignment and testimony. The county saves the cost of transporting prisoners by videoconferencing them in to the main courthouse for hearings, according to Court Executive Officer Chuck Short. Witnesses can also give live testimony via video. Short described a recent custody case in which an ailing mother in Boston was unable to travel to Las Vegas but was able to give her testimony over a live video link, and a sexual assault case in which a frightened child did not have to face a full courtroom but could be interviewed in an adjoining location.
Johnson Inc., an insurance company based in St. John's, Newfoundland, sees different potential in video. The company has been rapidly expanding and acquiring new branch offices all across Canada, growing 400% since 2000, according to Glen Ryan, manager of network operations. In fact, eight additional locations will be added to the current 40 in the next few days. Because of that rapid growth, Ryan said, Johnson has a dire need for training resources and is investigating video to fill that need.
Johnson is well positioned to add video, according to Ryan, because it has already rolled out VoIP to almost all of its offices. "I wouldn't be surprised to see our bandwidth requirements increase 200% in the next two years," he said. Currently, the company uses some basic unified communications functions and has an IP contact center. Ryan is confident that the network he has put in place will handle real-time video training between branch offices and will be able to ramp up to support more sophisticated video applications in the future.
Forrester Research Inc. analyst Robert Whiteley is bullish on the emergence of video and the possibility of telepresence gaining ground. "This kind of video technology will drastically change team meetings and collaboration within and between companies," he said. He added, though, that price may be a factor inhibiting adoption.