From Powwows to Video Conferencing: Real-Time Multiparty Communications Throughout History

Chiara Menesatti, Product Marketing Manager

Bringing a large group of people together to share information has been a challenge ever since humans began to disperse. Before the days of audio bridges and chat rooms, the only way to bring large groups together for any purpose was in person. Think of the Native Americans and their powwows. People would travel near and far for these events, and although pow-wows were more like spiritual celebrations than business meetings, it was the best way for everyone to assemble and interact.

Bringing Powwows to the Conference Room

When you watch movies or television shows that portray the business world as it was several decades ago (think of the Mad Men era), you may recall scenes with men in suits huddled around a conference table. Of course, this was before the time of globalization and branch offices spread across multiple cities, states and countries. Many companies still adhere to this practice and insist that their employees fly to HQ for company-wide meetings. Here’s a great example of this type of meeting in action (take note of the carousel slide projector):

The Old Fashioned Audio Call: ”Are You There?”

Enter the audio bridge. Oh, that joyous practice of pressing a jillion numbers, waiting for everyone to join the call and then having to listen to, “Can you hear me?” about a hundred times. (Can you sense my sarcasm?) The audio bridge was the first technological innovation that brought participants together to discuss a mutual topic without the need for in-person meetings. However, scheduling audio calls proved to be a nightmare, and productivity waned as participants multitasked during calls. (If you’re stuck on an audio call, here’s a fun game to play to pass the time.) Not to mention that, in order to share presentations, photos or design mock-ups, you’d have to mail or e-mail them before the call since no other form of data sharing is possible.

Web Meetings: Real-Time Communications without the Personal Touch

Web meetings were invented to give audio calls a visual element. Instead of hearing a voice and referencing a document or image on your own, web conferencing allowed all participants to see slides in real time and, more recently, some low resolution video as well. However, web conferencing still operates in a scheduled, meet-me model where everyone calls in to a central place at a specific time. It was originally designed for presentations and audio with people calling from fixed locations, and that is where it performs best. Web conferencing was not designed to support high quality video communication or people connecting via tablets, smartphones and notebooks. Moreover, the web conferencing model makes connecting with people on demand particularly cumbersome when you are on the go and when you would benefit from high quality video to help you make decisions faster.

Finally, Multiparty Video Calls: Meet Face to Face without Being There

Video conferencing was supposed to solve the problems associated with in-person meetings, audio bridges and web conferencing. It was supposed to emulate a real-life meeting without the need for expensive travel. But unfortunately, many barriers to broad adoption have remained. Multiparty video conferencing on a bridge is expensive, complex and impossible to scale—that is, until now.

LifeSize today announced a new addition to its innovative UVC Platform, the industry’s first virtualized software platform that consolidates multiple infrastructure applications on one single interface. The all-new LifeSize UVC Multipoint is the industry’s first virtualized, software-based MCU. It was engineered for on-demand multiparty video calling and is optimized for the resolution of mobile devices. It’s incredibly simple to use, so organizations can buy what they need now and scale as they grow, enjoy greater productivity and support the growing number of workers who are using laptops, tablets and smartphones to collaborate and communicate. (With the BYOD trend on the rise, it is essential that companies find a bridging solution that can support these devices.) Finally, LifeSize UVC Multipoint is enormously affordable, which makes the technology accessible to companies of all sizes.

LifeSize also introduced enhancements to LifeSize Bridge through the addition of clustering, which allows multiple bridges to act like one, making them simpler to deploy, manage and use than ever before. Not only does this enable more participants to have access to video bridging, it also provides failover so calls will continue uninterrupted even if there is a technical glitch. There is no other solution on the market that is as simple and affordable. Clustering makes bridging more scalable than ever before so companies do not have to worry about anticipating future needs and make large, advanced purchases; they can simply purchase more ports when they need to and scale as their needs grow. LifeSize’s vision is to merge these two solutions (UVC Multipoint and clustering) to create an even better real-time, multiparty collaboration experience. This new offering is just around the corner, so stay tuned.

Over the last 100 years, multiparty collaboration has come a long way. How will it evolve in the coming decades? Will we have hologram meetings? Teleportation? Will video conferencing become the new standard? Share your thoughts and predictions in the comment box below.

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