First off, what is interoperability?
You may or may not have heard the term "interoperability" before. Very simply, it generally refers to the capability of different computer systems to talk to one another and exchange information. What it’s describing is how compatible different technologies are with one another.
But why is this so important and particularly, in relation to videoconferencing? It was a term that very popular within the videoconferencing industry a few years ago, but it is still highly relevant today as various video technologies compete for attention from business users. There are two main components to the importance of interoperability and video communications:
1. The ability to communicate with external video networks Think of the consumer video services you have likely used. With your FaceTime account for example, you’re only able to use it speak to other Mac and iOS users on iPad and iPhone. If you want to call a Windows user, well you’re out of luck.
2. Greater flexibility and choice for users Interoperability should give users freedom to join a video call with their preferred device or platform. With businesses ever more globalized, teams and stakeholders are getting further distributed, and at the global enterprise scale there can be regional variations for different vendors, hardware, and software options.
For a professional videoconferencing solution, being restricted to connecting only with users on the same platform is a pretty large, obvious limitation. Imagine buying a cell phone subscription and being told you can only dial and receive calls with the network provider you purchased from. Video should make it easier for people to collaborate and in today’s world, for most businesses that means the possibility of working with anyone potentially anywhere in the world.
The difficulty of interoperability and video communications:
Interoperability then, should be a must-have item when evaluating any type of professional videoconferencing solution. But if user demand for interoperability is so important for users, why can it still be such a challenge? Below is a short rundown of why videoconferencing interoperability offer such a technical problem:
- As videoconferencing technology developed, it was created on certain “standard” protocols
- These two protocols, “SIP” and “H.323”, are what purpose-built videoconferencing systems rely on
- Eventually, the development of standards-based video technology allowed connections between different networks and service providers
- The challenge today is connecting the traditional videoconferencing industry to newer, internet-based solutions such as Skype for Business or WebRTC (“Web Real-time communications”, which allows users to make video conference calls through a regular web browser.)
- Because these newer video formats make use of different technology it’s a difficult feat to seamlessly join all these options into one single videoconferencing event
So what’s the answer?
As a result of these technical challenges, more and more businesses are moving towards cloud video solutions. As part of the larger enterprise trend of moving to the cloud, organizations see the power of cloud solutions to fit an ever expanding range of tools, technologies and, workflows. Of course, each organization is different in how they will use video communications, but as business video use becomes more and more widespread, it pays to look for a cloud video solution that offers as much flexibility as possible whilst still remaining easy to use.
Here’s our quick list of 7 potential interoperable features you should be looking for in :
1. Compatibility with standards-based SIP/H.323 videoconferencing units (sometimes referred to as “endpoints”) from global industry-leading manufacturers like Cisco, Huawei, and Polycom
2. Support for WebRTC users to allow you to invite external “guest” participants to your video meetings or calls (check which browsers are supported since each one has slightly different protocols and user experiences and not all solutions will support every major browser)
3. Support for other video platforms or applications such as Skype, or especially Skype for Business
4. Firewall traversal (particularly for medium & large enterprises): enables safe, simple outgoing and incoming calls calls with external video networks from behind corporate firewall
Professional videoconferencing should be possible on any device
5. Support to join a call or meeting from any device: desktop, mobile and tablet devices, as well as SIP/H.323 video units (either via WebRTC or a dedicated app)
6.Screensharing: the ability for participants on different platforms or devices to both view and display screen sharing with other users
7. The ability to connect all these different elements in the same meeting, all at the same time, with as little friction as possible, into one video platform for a consistent user experience however users join
Whilst this list covers the potential interop features of cloud video, it's worth noting that different service providers may offer some, or all of these features with different variables in the resulting user experience and service costs.