March 24, 2022 - Like so many other trends that had shown some modest growth prior to the pandemic, the demand for wireless conferencing has taken off in the last two years. Now that an increasing number of organizations are adopting a hybrid staffing model — a blend of on-site and remote work — the flexibility offered by these solutions has guaranteed that this technology is here to stay.
"Wireless conferencing really brings lot of opportunity for non-traditional spaces, and as a result, we're seeing this segment grow by leaps and bounds," says Lauren Simmen, Crestron's director of product marketing.
The adaptability of wireless conferencing is neatly expressed by Simmen's definition of the technology: "It's the ability to control the room's peripherals and have a single conferencing system — so if I have any USB speaker, any camera, now I can bring my video conferencing to those peripherals without having to have a wired control."
Every Space is a Collaborative Space
As hybrid work becomes the new normal, fewer coworkers are collaborating and ideating in four-walled rooms. Any huddle space, any nook (or even a small group of comfortable chairs) where people can get together and "riff" is now fair game, says Simmen: "We're seeing wireless conferencing go into those spaces that weren't traditionally thought of as AV rooms or video conferencing rooms. If we can take the peripherals to those non-traditional spaces, it allows us video conferencing in every space." The freedom that comes with this technology — technology that was seen as a novelty until recently — is now something expected by employees in a modern hybrid workplace. "Everything needs to be equipped for video conferencing," says Simmen. "This is how we communicate now. It's no longer, ‘Hey, let's go meet in the big conference room.'"
There are two problems with that expectation, both of which are solved with wireless solutions: infrastructure and cost. "To hardwire every meeting space that you have in an organization to be video-conference-capable, that's a huge expense — and not just hardware. You're talking about running cables, installation, set-up, provisioning," Simmen explains. Most meeting spaces likely have some kind of display in close proximity — even if that screen is primarily used for, say, a digital signage application — and that becomes something of an "entry point" for the peripheral devices. "There's an ethernet cord that's probably most likely already attached to that display," Simmen explains. "There are no new wires that need to be run at that point. When you add your soundbar, you add your camera, whatever it might be — they connect to the immediate device, that device connects to the network, and you're done."
Interoperability and Security
When more devices are added to any system, or when guests arrive with their own machines or a staffer decides to present some content in a BYOD ("bring your own device") situation, a constant worry has been interoperability: Will all this stuff work and play well together?
"When we talk about these peripherals, it's essentially USB devices. With USB devices, there's not a ton of different ways that they operate when it comes to peripherals like this," says Simmen. "With Crestron's AirMedia system, we anticipate very few interoperability issues, just because of the general nature of USB connection." Moreover, the Crestron engineering team, informed by user and installer feedback, is constantly expanding the list of compatible gear.
The other concern: security. Although she's got an ever-growing list of examples in this regard, Simmen provides two of the biggest: "The AirMedia AM-3200 receiver has two separate LAN ports, one to support a guest network and one for the internal network — so if you have a guest network, that's how you want people to connect." The other example is the soon-to-be released, presentation-only AirMedia Connect Presentation Adaptor AM-TX3-100, which is an AES encrypted device, says Simmen. "It's not going to be able to open up a port or any other vulnerabilities there. The device itself is also built to be secure — and it's on its own network."
Ultimately, these solutions are one more tool to help achieve what Simmen and the rest of the Crestron team has been evangelizing for: meeting equity. "When anyone can collaborate from anywhere — from a remote location, a big, purpose-built conference room, or a little alcove with a couple of comfy chairs — that's when the digital workplace is achieving its true potential."