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Meeting Equity Starts With Better Network Connectivity
Meeting equity is an umbrella term that covers human behaviors, the physical spaces where people meet, and the technological tools which help participants meet and connect. Gabi Shriki, senior vice president, and head of audiovisual (A/V) business, Valens Semiconductor, recently observed three meeting equity and A/V tech trends: AI in camera decision-making; more cameras and peripherals in the meeting space; transition from analog to digital PTZ (ePTZ).
No Jitter tapped Shriki to discuss these meeting equity and A/V tech trends further, examine urgent challenges impeding meeting equity and A/V tech , and how specific technologies can address these pain points.
Shriki also expanded on how A/V tech can implement better inclusion and how contact centers can get creative at optimizing their video for future hybrid work environments. Shriki also identifies the one thing currently missing in the video collaboration space he wishes existed.
Responses have been edited for conciseness and clarity.
You've identified three trends in A/V and meeting technologies: AI in camera decision-making, additional meeting cameras and peripherals, and a move from analog to digital PTZ (ePTZ). Which one of these three is your favorite trend—and why?
GB: AI in camera decision-making because it’s more visible to us. We like that cameras can zoom in and out as we handle our meetings. What I would like to see more is more cameras [in a meeting room] because right now a single camera doesn’t cover a meeting in the best way. We must differentiate between participants in their home office, by themselves, vs. participants in the meeting room.
On the enterprise side—the meeting experience isn’t the same [for in-office and remote participants]. Sometimes the benefit is for the person who sits at home with a large screen in front of them, a microphone 60 centimeters away—because they look good and [sound] clear.
On the other hand—those remote participants aren’t feeling included in the meeting. I.e., If there’s a side discussion in the room or something is on the whiteboard—they aren’t part of it. So the combination of AI in the camera, multiple cameras, and audio devices in the room are necessary to have a better meeting experience.
What are the most important challenges impeding meeting equity and A/V tech? Why are these challenges especially urgent?
GB: The most important element in the quality of web conferencing has nothing to do with audio or video. It's the Ethernet, IP network capacity, and quality of service. Often—even in larger enterprises and companies like ours—the network access and connectivity to the cloud isn’t sufficient in its quality. We’ve all experienced this when [the connection] is choppy, [we don’t hear] the audio, or the video is freezing. That’s inhibiting a good meeting experience.
Before we tackle the A/V aspects, we must ensure our customers and installers invest in improving their network capacity and quality of service. Generally, this is the number one thing to do. Once you do that, you have to worry about the quality of the peripherals. To have a decent meeting, you must have that [quality] there. These peripherals, cameras, speakers, microphones— the emphasis of the letter ‘s’—many of those in each device are critical.
How can specific technologies address these pain points?
GB: A cost-effective, wired, and flexible service terminal (FST) series of wires [technologies] tackle reliability. We don’t want to put someone in a position where they have a guest who needs access to the network, and we have to find a password to enable the guest to start receiving emails and stuff like that.
Hybrid work appears to be detrimental for some employees with disabilities given the in-office/remote component. For example — visually impaired workers may not be able to track who in a meeting is present or virtual. How can A/V tech lead on implementing better inclusion?
GB: I’ve been in a meeting room that was a classroom inside a school. It was a classroom with cameras around the room that looked at the students and teacher. It recognized each face and put a tag on each person.
It sounds a little creepy, but put [those feelings] aside and recognize the capabilities there. You have a good camera, AI, and audio system that understands who’s joining the meeting. The AI system is educated enough to know that participant X and participant Y are visually impaired or have other disabilities and make the right decision.
In some cases, text and a tag name are enough. In other cases, there will be an audible indication of who’s in the meeting. There may also be other visual effects that can help those people receive better inclusion and participate in a better way. AI aspects will need to be the core engine to solve that [accessibility] problem.
How can contact centers get creative at optimizing their video for future hybrid work environments?
GB: If contact centers want a visual connection with their customer, here’s where you need a much more sophisticated videoconferencing system (including video and audio) to allow many customers to call in and address them at the same time.
Video, in general, has a much wider bandwidth requirement compared to audio. Therefore, you must ensure network capacity, number of camera displays, better audio with beamforming echo cancellation and noise reduction. All of these have to go in a much bigger direction. Larger screens and video walls becoming centerpiece of contact centers is already happening today.
I don’t think the world is ready for the traditional contact centers transitioning from audio-only to audio plus video. I’m sure this will happen—especially in places where the visual connection is necessary.
What steps must we take to get there?
GB: Cloud connectivity. All those conferencing platforms run on the cloud at the end of the day.
On the enterprise side, simplicity is important. I can’t count the many meetings I attend where the meeting starts too many minutes after it should because the meeting coordinator wasn’t clear on what to press, where the meeting is, how to share, (etc.)
We want one single cable visible to the meeting participants. Plug it in—never mind if it’s a C-port, HDMI, or DisplayPort—just one cable, reliable, no code, no Wi-Fi access—simple to get up and running. Single cable connectivity and no password are important — and as I said earlier — more camera and audio devices to cover a room. I’d say at least two displays so we can see the content and participant at the same time—this is critical.
For the home users, connectivity is also important. I.e., how good is your Internet connection and audio quality? People must be aware of that.
What’s one thing currently missing in the video collaboration space that you wish everyone had, and why?
GB: There are two things: I like to have the ability to connect more than one camera, and I want the flexibility to customize my windows by display.
The thing missing for me is the ability to use more than one camera on [either Zoom or Teams]. If you look at Zoom and Teams, they allow sharing one camera (one focuses on you and another on your document), but it’s very limited. I can’t resize the windows of what I’m sharing or what I’m seeing. There isn’t enough customization in the way I consume both platforms. There’s not enough flexibility for me to decide the size of your window, vs. the size of the content, vs. which display shows what.
I understand why it’s a complex thing to do—and it requires much effort on [the vendors'] sides. As a user of these platforms, this is something I personally would love to have.