UC Audio, the Task-Based Workforce and Market Catalysts — Oh My!

ucc collaborative day audio session

So, you’re probably here because you want to know about audio in the UC market, right? You’re in the right place. As your stand-in host once again — I can tell you all about this particular session of LAVNCH EMEA.

Once again, this session was hosted by James Kirby, pro audio analyst for Futuresource Consulting. He had a few points to make about UC audio before we moved on to the panel.

Audio and the UC Market

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So, we can tell from the photo above that this is a substantial market and one that has seen some growth in recent years. We know that. We also know that there are plenty of growth opportunities here — and that is not something that is going to change any time soon.

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As more people are using personal computers as communications devices — the market is just going to grow and grow and grow. But don’t get me wrong! Videoconferencing in meeting rooms is not going away even though we are in the middle of a pandemic, so it is important not to forget about this portion of UC audio. It’s a big portion, after all.

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Speaking of meeting room audio — it has seen some changes in recent years. Particularly because it is no longer just audio-dedicated devices that are important. Now, it’s about anything that integrates audio — as you can see, all of these products with any of these capabilities are competing in one giant market. So, what happens next? Does everything become consolidated into one product — or what?

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Let’s Get Paneling

So, now that we know the UC audio market has changed and will continue to do so, let’s talk about how! At this point Kirby welcomed the panelists. Today the panel was made up of James Kirby, Jon Dew-Stanley of Midwich, Ryan Root of Stem Audio, Holger Stoltze of Yamaha and Kai Tossing of Sennheiser. Each brought a different type of expertise to the panel — so it was sure to be productive and useful to all who joined.

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Kirby’s first question for the panel was about how audio has improved in the past few years — as it used to take a backseat to video in the UC realm. Not anymore! How has audio quality become an important part of the conversation?

  • Dew-Stanley: “When you look at how products are developed [with the] microphone being a part of a system — when you had lots of equipment to make things work, now that’s not really the case. Digital signal processing is now aligned with the microphone so now it’s aligned in a different way.”
  • Stoltze: “We’re all sick of being on the far end of a call and saying, ‘repeat that,’ because we couldn’t hear what was said. Higher ups in companies want to make sure their meetings are productive. If you have a call with video and no audio you’re a pantomime with dancing around but no one can hear anything but if it’s just an audio call you can still communicate and exchange information.”
  • Root: “Videoconferencing has been the biggest accelerator of all this — it pushed the industry to develop better audio. It goes even a step further and now we are talking about reliability — how well does it sound is not a competition right now, it’s more of being reliable.”

Second question: Many developments driving the market forward right now — what are some interesting areas pushing it forward at the moment?

  • Dew-Stanley: “Use cases. We’re trying across the world to get back to our offices and get back to some sense of normal. When you think audio, you want to get into a meeting room to have a conversation — using microphone arrays, DSP, reduce ambient noise and get that good quality. Meeting rooms have understood the need of the market at the moment. Many offices need to adopt soft codecs to use these.”
  • Root: “There are features like fencing — these features are moving us in a direction when we are not as worried about audio quality — it’s really great right now — now we are focusing beyond audio quality. We are looking at the experience, but you need to update your audio to current standards. There is still a shift of people updating their technology. Right now as people are updating, we are focusing on cool features.”
  • Tossing: “There is definitely a need for people to be back in the office, even in this room we need to have remote participants. We need to have good quality on all the sites. In schools there is a need — they all can’t go in the same classroom anymore.”
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So, as for the elephant in the room: How is COVID impacting the meeting room climate?

  • Stoltze: “Meeting rooms are not going away forever. We all want to go back to the office; we want to see our colleagues and collaborate with them. If you have been in video calls vs. an in-person meeting in the room — you interact differently when you are sitting in the room.”
  • Root: “A lot of people are going to return to the office with new rules for the short-term. We are back in the office [at Stem Audio] and only one person is allowed in huddle room at a time. But if you think about it, there is a shift — some friends of mine are already permanently working from home. There is going to be a need for that communication — office people need to communicate with people at home. That will be the continued acceleration of our industry. I think that’s why a lot of us in this industry are overwhelmed right now.”

At this point, Kirby opened up the floor for questions from the audience. There were a few notable things the panel touched on. First of all, general trends in UC audio: the adoption of the “complete package.” Basically, end users are really into products that include everything they need! Also, we might see some changes in the size of conference rooms right now, i.e. huddle rooms can’t really happen because people have to comply with social distancing standards. So, what audio products will manufacturers make to outfit new rooms to fit fewer people, but more spread apart?

Finally, the panel briefly spoke about the ever-evolving question: Will DSP all go into the cloud? Nobody worry, the panel all had slightly different feelings about this. But what I gleaned was that while some people may get tired of spending big money on black boxes — hardware will always be relevant! But who knows? There may even be options integrating it with software! ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

If you missed today’s UCC Day Collaboration Session, I have news: You can still register to view the LAVNCH EMEA archives! Register here.