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Guidelines when pursuing external funds to install videoconference capabilities
Videoconferencing, also known as 'telepresence', 'video teaching', 'or televideoconferencing', uses high-end technical equipment to send audio and video signals over a network. This allows participants to see and hear each other and can provide benefits such as reduced travel, extended reach of teaching delivery and greater collaboration.
The technology involved is very expensive. In some cases, Faculties, Institutes and other Areas have sought grant funds from external bodies to fund videoconferencing equipment. DeS can foresee the volume of such grants increasing over time, and provides this information to provide guidance and ensure a quality outcome for all parties.
The overriding point of this memorandum is that videoconferencing has a number of fundamental prerequisites – and any grant application needs to give these due consideration – or risk being unable to deliver.
Technical information is given in italics. This information may be useful for IT departments of partner organisations with whom a grant is being considered or applied for.
If you have a poor underlying network, you will have a poor videoconferencing experience. This presents a number of challenges you will need to consider in your grant application;
- What type of underlying network does the intended site(s) have?
- What is the capacity of the underlying network?
- What is the speed of the underlying network?
- Who is responsible for the underlying network and what contracts are in place with this party?
High definition videoconferencing requires an IP (not ISDN) based network capable of at least 4mbps in both directions. Industry recommendations for packet loss indicate a tolerance no larger than 0.05% packet loss. Significant quality loss occurs after 1% packet loss. Latency should be no more than 100ms. ADSL and other residential-grade services are generally unsuitable. If the internet connection at a site is shared with other services, such as general data, then quality of service (QoS) may need to be applied to video traffic to prevent disruption to other network-dependent services.
Videoconferencing equipment is generally stable, but from time to time there will be problems which need to be addressed on site. If the site is remote to Deakin University's main campuses, or is intended to be co-located with a partner institution such as a hospital or company, then consideration needs to be given to whether the support staff within the organisation need to be involved. The most value from videoconferencing is derived when end users are comfortable in using the equipment, so training also needs to be given attention.
- Who owns the videoconferencing equipment?
- Who is responsible for paying maintenance on the equipment? (most vendors charge a yearly amount).
- Who monitors, configures and applies updates to the videoconferencing equipment?
- Who has physical and system access to configure the equipment?
- Who reports on aspects such as utilisation of the equipment?
- Who provides training to end users?
- Who maintains operational and training artefacts such as manuals?
- Who do end users call when they experience a fault? What support processes are used?
Most videoconferencing equipment needs to be maintained by a channel partner, who charges a significant fee for providing firmware updates, and services such as provision of spare equipment in the event of a failure. Training needs to include operation of the equipment and technique coaching in presentation via video. Physical access to the equipment by support staff needs to be considered.
A suitable physical environment is a prerequisite for high quality videoconferencing. The below factors need to be considered during any planning phase;
- Where is the space located? Is it suitable for the intended purpose – such as teaching?
- What are the acoustics, lighting, soundproofing, physical access and security like?
- Is there anything in the environment that could damage the equipment?
DeS provides a number of technical standards which provide guidance in this area – see below for more information.
In many cases, if a grant application for videoconferencing is successful, DeS will not be the organisation provisioning the equipment or the underlying infrastructure. Instead this may be done through contractors or partner organisations, and will require project management capabilities, particularly in stakeholder management. If you do not have these skills, then you will need to accommodate this in your grant.
You also need to be aware of provisioning timelines for videoconferencing equipment. If additional networking infrastructure needs to be commissioned, and equipment needs to be ordered from overseas, then this can add up to several months in a project timeline. You will need to factor this in, particularly if the deliverables for the grant have a fixed deadline.
DeS can provide a list of recommended contractors for audiovisual fitout, network provisioning and project management on request.