It’s a land where ornate monasteries emerge from the sheer cliffs of the Himalayas, and the relative calm of the open foothills still sits more than 6,500 feet above sea level. The Kingdom of Bhutan has a unique, perilous beauty, but it comes at a cost. Living within the living rock brings isolation.
Anyone who’s traveled across the vast spaces of states like Wyoming and Montana knows that the more you give over to the natural world, the more you tend to lose touch with the modern one. But in Bhutan, the isolation is coupled with treacherous conditions that make traveling of any kind difficult.
So, the local authorities simply don’t travel.
Instead, those governing the almost 800,000 inhabitants of the Himalayan kingdom meet with each other and their constituents by video call. Specifically, Bhutan uses TrueConf video conferencing to link hundreds of geographically disparate ministers and representatives throughout the country. The system is a great example of how video calling can have a practical impact on the way we organize our lives.
Traveling by Video Conference
You must see at least a little of Bhutan in order to appreciate how difficult it must be to travel across its rocky terrain for even relatively small distances. The entire country is situated in the world’s highest mountain range, and its people are largely confined to living in the valleys and plains between the peaks.
It’s a stunning place to visit, but practical living is probably a challenge if you have to venture outside your own neighborhood. However, once the internet arrived in 1999, so did alternatives to physical journeys.
The Bhutanese government has connected all 200 districts of the nation, which is smaller than Maryland and has less than a seventh of its population, via the internet. Now its 400 officials and 10 ministries can speak with each other over face-to-face video conference without ever climbing a single slope.
TrueConf Video Conferencing
Bhutan put its video conferencing system in place with the help of TrueConf video conferencing, a Russian company using an adaptable, scalable software architecture. TrueConf’s on-premises server system also lets it work with existing, or legacy, equipment. That’s important in the everyday working world as it means a company doesn’t have to junk its hardware and start from scratch if it wants to change video conferencing vendors.
So, the TrueConf system was built on the existing Polycom technology the Bhutan government had in place. The bigger challenge was to roll out that service across all the different network points. TrueConf offers scalability as well as modern interoperability standards that let organizations create a complete unified communications network. That’s long been the Holy Grail of workplace communication, and it has recently come to the fore through software such as Slack and Microsoft Teams. Essentially, unified communications ties together all the digital communications used across a business, from messaging and video calls to analytics and project delivery.
TrueConf provides 4K visuals, and with their largest video conferencing solution, up to 36 people can actively speak and be seen in a meeting at a time, while the rest (up to 250 participants in total) are passive listeners. If any of these listeners want to speak, instead of being automatically rotated into the video lineup once they start talking, as with some vendors like BlueJeans, they must raise a hand in order to request to speak. Listening video conference members can also make an ‘audio reply’ to other participants. It’s a system that seems to us more awkward in some ways than others we’ve encountered, but the large number of participants TrueConf allows both on- and off-screen has the potential to make up for it.
Most importantly, it allows the government of Bhutan to communicate easily, and the project is proof that video calling can make a meaningful impact in an important situation.
Video Conferencing for Better Communities
Where the internet goes, so goes video conferencing. The information we exchange when making a face-to-face call travels the same digital pathways as any other data we send online. As such, every endpoint on the planet can potentially connect with any other, and every person who can access these devices can speak with any other–that is, if they want to.
VC Daily has detailed dozens of examples from around the world where this connection can be used for good in society. Community video conferencing centers are empowering women in rural India. Virtual teachers can reach students in remote Alaska. South African AIDS sufferers can access medication 24 hours a day with video-enabled telepharmacies. A video chat platform in Australia offers teens a haven from cyberbullying.
Video conferencing itself doesn’t provide any of these services. It’s how you use video conferencing that makes the difference. As with Bhutan, however, video calling gives people the opportunity to conquer distance and time and create solutions themselves with this powerful tool.
Correction: An earlier version of this post stated that a maximum of six participants may be on-screen during a TrueConf video conference at one time. A maximum of thirty-six participants may be on-screen at once.