In 1999, IT oracle Bill Gates predicted the arrival of the smartphone almost a decade before it became the most influential device on the planet. In a bitter twist of fate, it would be arch-rival Steve Jobs and Apple who would ultimately win the race to popularize Gates’ vision, but the Microsoft founder knew what was coming, saying:
“People will carry around small devices that allow them to constantly stay in touch and do electronic business from wherever they are.”
Nearly 20 years after that statement, it’s time to think about the future of another potentially disruptive technology: video conferencing.
Its place in our digital future is assured, which is clear if you look at the following statistics:
- The value of the enterprise video conferencing market is expected to increase to 4.48bn by 2023.
- Some experts believe half the workforce will telecommute within a decade.
- Last year, 64% of companies had video conferencing setups in small ‘huddle’ rooms.
The question is, how deeply will video conferencing penetrate our working and social lives? Here are some video conferencing future trends we believe will start to emerge in 2018, beginning with the fallout from the end of net neutrality.
The End of Net Neutrality Will Hit Video Conferencing Hard
The Federal Communication Commissions’ desire to deregulate internet delivery isn’t yet universal law–Montana just found a possible loophole–but it could spell trouble for video conferencing in the office. Video makes big demands on your broadband connection, HD video calling even more, and 4K calls are so heavy they’re currently beyond the capabilities of the average setup. If an internet provider can charge extra for the high speeds needed to run video calls, small business could get priced out of the market–just when they found a way, through video conferencing, to level the digital playing field.
WebRTC Will Let E-Commerce Go Guerrilla
Live streaming sites such as YouTube Live and YouNow have created a whole new genre of celebrity, delivering fresh voices from everyday people who would never have made it onto broadcast TV. Now there’s a way to bring that same DIY approach to e-commerce. WebRTC, an agreement by the big internet browsers to share their codes and protocols with the world, lets anyone create a direct, face-to-face video portal on their own website for free. That means anyone, selling anything, can forge a personal relationship with any customer–and that could mean returning the importance of personality to retail.
Slack Is Going to Collide with Telepresence
The macro and the micro of video conferencing in the office are on a collision course that could result in an impact this year. Internal, desk-bound work collaboration apps like Slack are being used by thousands of businesses to get their staff collaborating via chat and video calling. Meanwhile, external and C-suite-level video communications are still dominated by large-scale telepresence devices that take up entire rooms and focus on quality over quantity. As Scott Wharton, vice president and general manager of Logitech Video Collaboration, recently noted, that divide will need to be bridged soon:
“Workspace messaging will become the biggest battleground for enterprise communication, so the market will keep consolidating on the high end (Microsoft and Cisco, for example). Challengers will include Slack and Google. At the same time, the worlds of video conferencing, Unified Communications, and workplace messaging will collide into a single interface.”
That single interface has been the Holy Grail of unified communications for a decade, but for all the high-tech predictions, the final solution will probably stem from an employee first, keep-it-simple attitude. Wharton is right to believe the big players will partner or merge, shrinking the field of competition; we also predict that a lot of the winnowing will occur at employees’ desks. The easier a system is to operate, after all, the more quickly those who must use it most often will embrace it.
Video Conferencing Is Going to Become a Central Part of Smart Speakers
Video conferencing is increasingly becoming a social tool, as every major social media app begins to add video calling to its platform. However, the smartphones that house them and make them so convenient come with a catch–small screens that almost defeat the purpose of visual communication. Meanwhile, the latest additions to the smart speaker and home assistant lineup–dominated by Google Home and Amazon Echo–are shipping with video conferencing-enabled screens. Yes, these units are tethered to your kitchen or family room, but if those screens expand up to laptop size, they could become the new family video phone–and a better way to make social video calls.
The Video Conferencing Market Is in for a Big Squeeze
Again, we’ll turn to Logitech’s Scott Wharton to provide an industry perspective on what we can expect to happen as more and more video conferencing players enter the market.
“Video as a primary form of communication is becoming mainstream, and adoption rates continue to increase thanks to mainstream applications like Skype, FaceTime, and Google Hangouts. But the market is getting crowded, and we can expect consolidation in the cloud video conferencing (VCaaS) and web conferencing space, with multiple vendors getting acquired, going bankrupt or leaving to focus on other areas of the market.”
This big squeeze looks like it’s going to favor the deep pockets and 100-million-strong user bases of the big players, Google, Microsoft, and Facebook, with Amazon potentially emerging as a new entrant. The one point Wharton doesn’t emphasize enough, however, is a newfound thirst for battle among the big players. They’re not just buying up little rivals anymore and incorporating their talent (although as Wharton suggests we will see plenty of that as well), they’re also willing to stand beside them in the market and use the weight of user numbers to fight an unfair fight. We’ve seen Microsoft threaten Slack through imitation rather than acquisition, Facebook pull the same trick with Snapchat, and Twitter cut off Meerkat’s audience access to favor Periscope.
It seems possible that 2018 will be the year we see the video conferencing field become much less crowded.