From a technology perspective, the last few years have been great for board rooms and large conference rooms. They are increasingly being outfitted with video conferencing or telepresence systems, which are designed to deliver an immersive experience. However, in most organizations, the small conference rooms and huddle rooms are still struggling along with the telecommunication technologies of the last century. It sure seems like it’s time to consider other options.
Although video may not be in the cards for all of these rooms, they are increasingly being used for collaboration. In the past, small conference rooms were often used to make a phone call, participate in a conference, or just have a small meeting … and they are still used for that. However, the tools, applications and capabilities needed when the people in the conference room reach out to interact with others outside the conference room have changed radically. A phone call used to be the only way to communicate with people outside the conference room; now it may be a unified communications session, using Skype, joining a webinar, or even joining a meeting using WebRTC.
The challenge is that most small meeting rooms and huddle rooms still have a legacy telephone device. Although, in some cases, it’s a conference speakerphone, often it is just a traditional phone with speakerphone capabilities. Both of these devices are limited to making phone calls through the system to which they are connected. This limits their use in two ways: they can only join traditional phone-based interactions, and they are limited to legacy narrowband audio. The quality of that audio is further compromised because most speakerphones assume they are connected to the old Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN), not the new IP edge and core PSTN. As the VoIPmaggedon articles discussed, a basic phone may have echo problems and other issues as well.
One alternative is to use a relatively inexpensive disc-type USB or USB/Bluetooth speaker/mic device, but these devices have some issues. They cannot replace the phone itself because they are not designed to be a phone and they only work with a soft app in a PC, tablet or smartphone. And because they are small and portable, they often “grow legs” and disappear from the conference room into someone’s office. The result is that users start buying them, but can never find one when it’s needed.
Revolabs recently rolled out a set of new audio devices designed to be the next generation of small conference room and huddle room solutions. The speakerphones have four high quality microphones, a high quality speaker sufficient for 15’ x 20’ conference rooms or even larger, and excellent echo cancellation. Although somewhat larger than the small disc speakerphone, the overall quality of the audio they produce makes them more appealing.
The product range has three distinct versions:
- FLX UC 500 with USB
- FLX UC 1000 with USB and a phone dialer that enables it to be a telephony endpoint on a range of popular telephony/UC systems, includingAvaya, BroadSoft, Cisco, ShoreTel, and more
- FLX UC 1500, which has two extension microphones for larger spaces.
With these products, Revolabs is taking a new approach to audio. With a common master audio module that includes the speakers, microphones, audio processing and USB, buyers can choose the version they need based on the room. For example, in a room that has a TDM-based traditional speakerphone (think of the legacy batwing phone), a UC 500 can be added to handle all of the non-telephony requirements. Using USB avoids all the negatives associated with loading user devices up with Bluetooth pairings for all of the conference rooms and the sound quality can be optimized. For rooms with a VoIP phone, the phone can be removed and a UC 1000 installed, connecting it to the UC/telephone system. Finally, for larger spaces, the UC 1500 with the additional outboard mics may be the best solution.
The key is to select an audio device that lets conference participants optimize their use of small conference rooms and huddle spaces. Whether the conversation is a phone call or a UC session using applications like Skype®, Jabber®, Lync®, WebEx®, or GoToMeeting®, the right device with the right audio quality can make for a great experience.
We all know that organizations need innovation, problem-solving and creativity in order to succeed. Increasingly, many of the events that shape our companies are taking place in small conference rooms. Now is the time to bring those conference rooms out of the last century and into the new light of a full range of communications capabilities.