The Video Conferencing Question: To IP, or Not IP?

Vicki Pohlman Dec. 19, 2010, 2:33am


Challenging economic times are leading law firms to closely assess every business practice as they seek to complete tasks more efficiently and to lower costs.

For significant savings in both time and expense, it is no surprise that practitioners are turning to cutting-edge video conferencing. The service allows multiple case participants from across the county to "attend" depositions and meetings without spending the time or adding the costs of travel and lodging. In a video conference, all parties communicate real-time using a simultaneous, two-way video and audio transmission system, as if meeting face-to-face.

With such rapid advances in related internet and video technologies, the question is no longer whether or not to tap into video conferencing – it's what technology to use. The two primary contenders are internet protocol (IP) or integrated services digital network (ISDN). The principal difference is that IP video conferencing transmits voice and video via the internet while ISDN uses regular telephone lines to convey the information.

So the question is: to IP, or not IP? Following are pros and cons of each.

Since IP video conferencing transmits data over the internet, there are no long distance telephone charges. The technology is easier to access, and is monitored regularly by information technology (IT) personnel. Its larger bandwidth offers faster call transmission, and there is tighter data security. The downside is some older video conferencing systems are not IP-capable. Plus, the large data transmission may slow down an entire data network.

The reliance of ISDN video conferencing on ordinary telephone lines results in higher clarity and reliability than an IP solution. Additionally, the information bypasses data networks, eliminating a network overload. However, ISDN operates on a limited bandwidth, and additional line installations may be required. Plus, the status of an ISDN network is only monitored when calls are in progress, meaning a failed network could go unnoticed until it is time to place a call.

For faster connection and to avoid long distance charges, first seek to set up an IP-to-IP connection. When not all parties are equipped to handle IP connections, a "bridge" will be used by the service provider to connect the IP-using parties with an ISDN system. One bridge connects up to four sites.

When ISDN service is "bridged" to an IP connection, the party using ISDN must initiate the conferencing call to the party/parties using IP which means that long distance charges will apply for the out-going call. Prices for conferencing, bridging and long distance services vary by provider and city.

So which technology – IP, ISDN or a combination of the two – is appropriate for a firm's next video conference? When scheduling, here's a list of considerations to ensure the most cost-efficient solution. Internal IT support personnel and video conference service providers can help with answers.

  • Is the conference call location equipped to handle IP connections?

  • How many locations will participate?

  • Is each location equipped to handle IP connections?

  • When IP connection is available, are all data networks large
    enough to support the hefty voice and video data?

  • Are there any security settings on the network that might prevent transmission?

  • Is there a non-IP-capable party that needs a "bridge"?

  • If a long distance call is necessary, who is responsible for payment?

    Without question, every law firm will find savings through video conferencing. The only real question is how best to connect – web-based IP technologies or ISDN services that tap into phone lines? Either way, the high-tech solution promises to benefit every party involved.

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