The death of the phone call: How 4G revolutionised video conferencing

A study by Virgin Media Business recently predicted that by the end of the decade 60 per cent of UK staff will regularly work from home. This makes sense: working remotely increases productivity, reduces travel costs, allows workers greater flexibility and can even help employers reduce office size (and consequently, rent) because of lower occupancy.

However, this trend has placed greater strain on our collaboration technologies; email and instant messaging are essential, but can be isolating for workers to depend upon because they are essentially "faceless". Voice calls remain the staple of remote staff, but we have seen rising demand for videoconferencing as a more personal communication technology, connecting our digital nomads.

This also means that there is greater demand for ubiquity of access to the internet. Although many cafes offer "freemium" Wi-Fi, it is not always readily available, forcing workers to rely on their phone signal. Unfortunately, the bandwidth offered by 3G is frequently not good enough to offer video conferencing at a sufficiently high quality. The recent development of 4G and higher download quotas at an affordable price has now brought video conferencing to the forefront of remote working.

Video conferencing is no longer too expensive

4G offers far faster streaming capabilities which allows video conferencing users to escape the jittery conversations and grainy pictures associated with 3G. Although users may have to keep an eye on their data usage, videoconferencing does not have to be data-intensive. A low quality videoconference call will use around 270MB per hour; with 5GB of mobile data available for under £30 per month in the UK, there is ample scope for 4G users to have several videoconferences each week without significantly eating into their allowance.

However, there is far greater scope for videoconferencing above and beyond office workers on the move; for example, in the emergency services. In the case of an accident, a member of the public could use videoconferencing to show the wound or problem area to the emergency services to ask for advice on what to do before the ambulance arrives.

This is also true for professionals such as architects and engineers; highly trained senior staff are both busy and expensive to hire. If such firms can send a more junior member of staff who can provide a videoconferencing link to a building site to show such senior staff what they need to see, this can save valuable time and money.

Video conferencing in the field

Finally, field service staff like electricians and plumbers can also see significant benefits from 4G videoconferencing. Prior to arrival, customers can demonstrate the issues, allowing them to remotely diagnose a number of problems, or simply bring the right tools or replacement parts when they visit the site. However, these staff can also use videoconferencing to bring in remote specialists – for example, a specific model of boiler may require specific knowledge to repair correctly. If staff can avoid calling out expensive specialists and use videoconferencing, they can provide a high quality service at a far lower cost to the customer.

It’s easy to see how a wide range of industries could be helped by videoconferencing over 4G. Furthermore, with the development of 5G technologies, the ability to communicate however you want, wherever you are, will only get easier. Although we may be six or more years away from the deployment of 5G – new "G" standards tend to be introduced each decade – this will provide even stronger connections, clearer images and an overall better quality for users.

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video conferencing, 4G

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However, in the interim, using videoconferencing over 4G technologies is perfectly suited to remote workers for staying in touch and working effectively. Quite simply, it means that workers now have the freedom and flexibility to choose the best communication method for them, rather than being constrained by infrastructure.

4G has done great things for videoconferencing communications, enabling workers to be anywhere and still connect and collaborate. With such technological advances, we are truly approaching a time when work is something you do, not somewhere you are.

By James Campanini, vice president EMEA of Blue Jeans.