How expensive will video conferencing technology be for my business?

I’m interested in videoconferencing and would like to be able to communicate to a number of clients at the same time. Is this possible without investing thousands in technology?

A. John Coulthard of Microsoft says:

The first thing to do is to set clear measurable objectives of what you want to achieve. You have identified client communication as the primary motivation for investing in videoconferencing but before selecting a system, weigh all the associated costs (hardware, software and internet access) against the potential benefits. The good news is that videoconferencing is now more affordable than ever before.

There are three main options: pointto- point, videoconferencing over the internet and web conferencing.

For point-to-point videoconferencing between two or more offices, you need to set up a dedicated room at each location. If you already have a TV screen, you will need to purchase a videoconferencing camera. A highspeed data line such as ISDN or broadband is also required. In total, this equipment can cost from £2,500 to £5,000 per location plus another £100 per month for the cost of the network. Although point-to-point videoconferencing delivers near broadcast quality images, the number of those who you can interact with are restricted.

Videoconferencing over the internet is considerably cheaper. It works by attaching a webcam and headset with a microphone to a desktop PC. You need to download videoconferencing software such as Microsoft Windows NetMeeting and your PC will need a video compression card. Broadband access is also essential.

Although useful for less formal occasions, the lower-quality picture could reduce clients’ confidence in your business, therefore a reliable broadband service is a must.

The third, and what could be the best option, is web conferencing. Participants just need a phone line, a PC and an internet connection, ideally broadband. This enables anyone from anywhere to listen into the web conference by phone and then simultaneously see visuals through their browser. Online collaboration and web conferencing services such as Microsoft Office Live Meeting, allow participants to record and save amended presentation content.

As there are no additional hardware expenses the cost of web conferencing is relatively cheap. Companies such as BT offer a pay-as-you-go service, which costs on average 14-16p per user, per minute.


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