Wireless presentation systems: Click to connect
Steve Montgomery considers whether the market for wireless presentation systems has become saturated and looks at the requirements users are placing on vendors.
Since the launch of wireless presentation systems less than a decade ago, the market has rapidly expanded to a point now, that it seems to be overcrowded. The few small manufacturers that developed original standalone products have been joined by some of the largest AV product suppliers with devices aimed at extending their integrated communication and collaboration system offerings.
This has been aided by the widespread deployment of Wi-Fi networks in offices and educational establishments and boosted by user familiarity with simple non-wired and easily accessed connectivity in the home, as Remmelt van der Woude CEO of CTOUCH points out: “Wireless transmission of content is something that came to broad public awareness through consumer products like Intel WiDi, Apple Airplay and Google Chromebox. Following this trend, the professional AV and IT market developed their own products and protocols to offer wireless connectivity and device sharing in the business environment.
“Early wireless presentation devices have evolved from standalone boxes to become integrated productivity tools through which people share data and work together. These systems have the ability to work across multiple platforms including those commonly found on personal devices; Android, Windows and iOS. The latest total collaborative solutions such as Microsoft Surface Hub, Cisco Spark and CTOUCH 2Meet enhance true collaborative working and enable participation both on and off premise.”
Matt Buck, sales manager for Crestron UK believes that the market has stabilised recently: “the market for wireless collaboration has not changed much over the past year or two, however performance is being improved. There are many different products in the market, all of which promise to provide the best and easiest solution for BYOD connectivity. However they vary widely in features and in many cases confuse the market. The market is separated between systems that create their own standalone wireless transmission and others that integrate onto the client’s network. For simplicity, we use the same interface across our complete range of Airmedia devices including Crestron Mercury, our new DMPS series as well as the standalone AM-101 for integration to larger systems.”
In a crowded market, producers will attempt to differentiate their product by including unique features and despite a lot of similarity between devices there are pockets of innovation. Ed Morgan, head of marketing and communications at DisplayNote believes that: “The basic level of functionality of being able to cast devices is now supplemented by the ability to tailor systems to meet security, and branding requirements. Enterprise customers want their own, branded, wireless presentation solutions that have been configured to work specifically on their network and for their security protcols”.
Ease of connection via any network is another major factor, particularly when visitors arrive at meetings and need to connect to the in-house system to make a presentation. Morgan continues: "A huge differentiator lies in the ease with which guests access and connect to the system, ideally staying on a guest network and without needing to install an app. Users also want choice when it comes to form factor: software for spaces that already have computing power or as a hardware end point that can be wired to a screen”.
Faced with a wide choice, would-be purchasers need to focus on their needs and match them to products on offer. As with most other systems, normal purchasing principles apply and buyers should develop their own set of requirements, research available products and test out what they want in order to make an informed decision. This is a strategy that Chris Moore, AV product manager for BenQ believes strongly: “With so much on offer, it is becoming difficult for buyers to find exactly what they want. All the products in this sector have comparable use so I can understand why people would think that solutions on the market are all fairly similar. Generally speaking each product has some element of innovation. For example, BenQ’s Instashow does not require any software installation to run, making it very simple to use and set-up. The RP Series of interactive flat panels now has an inbuilt application called InstaQshare that enables users to collaborate wirelessly.
“My advice is to decide what is to define operational needs prior to searching for a solution. To speak to experts and thoroughly test a shortlist of products before making the final purchase decision. To ensure that the customer knows what to expect and that they have selected the right solution, we would always suggest having full demonstrations of all the shortlisted systems before they make their purchase decision.”
Despite appearing to be a relatively simple concept, integration of a wireless presentation system into a corporate or educational environment require a considerable amount of planning and implementation; both in ensuring a high level of security and offering a simple and usable solution. Morgan lists some of the questions that should be asked by installers: “Buyers need to really think about what they want: will guests need to connect on a different network? What compliance and security requirements need to be considered? Do they need to support touch screens? Do the intended rooms already have computing power or are more endpoints required? Is the requirement to simply cast a screen or should the experience be more collaborative?”
New ways of group working are being enabled by the latest collaboration applications and software. Tools such as Microsoft Teams and Skype for Business offer an integrated approach which further influences the development of presentation systems, and in particular, the hardware. “The overall user experience and interface is paramount and suppliers are concentrating heavily on producing a better and more natural writing experience whilst using a touchscreen in a group environment,” says van der Woude. “ Standalone wireless kits will not improve the quality of a business meeting and should be considered as gadgets with limited functionality and a very limited value-add in a meeting. The aim is to move forward and improve the effectiveness of wireless presentation tools and that is what today’s market is asking for.”
Neta Lempert, VP digital business development at Kramer agrees: “This isn’t a one-size-fits-all market. The needs of the education market differ from that of the corporate one. It’s not really just about presenting wirelessly and as manufacturers, we need to ensure that no matter who is presenting, they feel comfortable using the system and enjoy a seamless experience”
To meet the wide spread of user requirements and installation scenarios, manufacturers have responded with ranges of products with different operational interaction and functionality. A significant difference lies in the environment in which the system is intended to operate and whether it should be open or closed, which has further implications on the security of the system. Examples of systems in which wireless connectivity is integrated in a large format touch screen with embedded software applications in a closed environment are Microsoft Surface Hub and Cisco Spark. Open systems include CTOUCH 2Meet and NEC Infinity board.
Network security is critical in today’s business environment and whilst a wireless presentation might offer the best mix of features and performance, it should not be considered if it cannot be deployed in a totally secure manner. Lempert: “If you take a closer look at what’s offered nowadays, you’ll quickly realize that many products do not take security into consideration at all and these options are usually dismissed from an IT perspective. Security is one of the reasons why the Kramer VIA product line stands out. We understood from a very early stage that for a lot of our customers, especially those from banking, government and corporate industries, the ability to present securely is a non-negotiable starting point. That’s why we make sure that VIA products go through exhaustive security penetration tests based on the OWASP standard. IT administrators are familiar with and trust this standard to give them peace of mind when they need to integrate something new into their networks.”
A wireless presentation system will normally be part of the company’s IT infrastructure. This gives advantages: it facilitate seamless integrate into the working environment and allows the system to be set up to follow and comply with all company security policies and guidelines. The major consideration is to protect the on-site network from external threats, whilst ensuring shared information stays within the intended area. Every installation requires individual consideration: in education the hierarchy of different users within the same room is very important, while in corporate environments it is important to have robust separation between local and guest networks.
Lieven Bertier; global marketing manager for collaboration at Barco explains an approach: “To facilitate wireless collaboration on a company network, there will have to be bandwidth allocated for this purpose. This also means that IT managers will have to setup a DMZ (Demilitarized Zone). That specific part of the network where people collaborate with each other needs to be secured from outside interference, so that shared information cannot be leaked outside of the collaboration network. People from outside of that collaboration space need to be able to join the meeting as well, but still all shared info needs to stay within the collaboration space. These types of setup are all possible, but do require a good look at the flow of data and the restriction over an IT network.”
Wireless presentation systems have come a long way in the last decade, but, as with all technology, they still have some way to go and will evolve in the future, as working practices change, new generations of workers arrive and technology in other areas expands and grows. Lempert: “As in other markets, there is always room to do more. Today, most industry needs are covered; whether we’re looking at different verticals, budget limits or scale of deployment. However, it is up to us, the manufacturers, not only to meet current needs but to anticipate future ones. The ability to not just respond to the market, but to lead it, is what true innovation and progress are all about”.