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Lack of broadband hamstrings international videoconferencing

Charles Rathmann is a founding partner in communications firm Rathmann-Fronbery LLC. He wrote this article based on his experiences with two clients.

Wisconsin manufacturers are relying more and more on offshore operations in the Far East, creating a demand for Asian management talent in numerous fields.

Recruiting these professionals can be time-consuming and costly, but technology such as videoconferencing is being employed by some recruiters to shrink the distances involved.

“We recently helped a company in Mequon hire a manager in Taipei,” said Greg Lee, president of Milwaukee-based Park One Associates, Inc. Park One, a Management Recruiters International (MRI) affiliate, uses a Polycom Viewstation videoconferencing system sourced through an MRI-brokered deal.

The quality of videoconferencing images is dependent not on end-user hardware but on the speed of Internet connections. Available bandwidth becomes an issue even for domestic communications. In the world of videoconferencing, the lowest common denominator prevails as signal quality is sacrificed to allow those with slower connections to participate. In his recent international recruiting work, however, Lee said image quality has been extremely high.
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“It was as clear as watching Fox News,” Lee said. To ensure high-quality video conferencing, he has relied on videoconferencing services overseas.

“We have located two brokerage sources,” he said. “We call them in and they source and manage the link on the other end.”

The need for speed


In the high-touch business of recruiting, realism and coordination between audio and video are important. But in many parts of the world broadband connections are not yet available.

“I don’t know that there has been an increase in the use of international videoconferencing among our members,” said Christian Bartley, executive director of World Trade Center Wisconsin. The Milwaukee-based organization is part of an international network of world trade centers headquartered in New York City and helps its members do business abroad. “The infrastructure costs are expensive if you want the quality to be where it should be.”

But access to that infrastructure may be harder to come by for businesses in the United States than for those overseas. China is quickly surpassing the United States in availability of broadband. China’s broadband Internet audience blossomed in 2002, growing almost 500 percent to 2.9 million households. According to first-quarter 2004 figures from Point Topic, China’s DSL connections have almost reached the 14-million mark.

According to Lee, of 1,100 MRI affiliates, 350 have some type of videoconferencing capabilities and about 220 enjoy fast enough connections for high-quality video communication. Only about 25 or 30 firms in the network have used their video connections for international recruiting. The fact that many affiliates may be in locations or buildings with poor access to broadband may prevent wider and more advanced use of videoconferencing.

“Many of the MRI affiliate offices are in the countryside or in small multi-tenant buildings where even DSL may not be available.” said Research Manager Mike Sherman, who doubles as Park One’s de facto IT manager.

Lee had a hard time getting sufficient bandwidth for any videoconferencing whatsoever at Park One’s offices. Park One leases space in one of two Park Plaza office towers on West Park Place, Milwaukee. The building is well-appointed and convenient to Highway 45, but is too far from an SBC facility to provide DSL service and is not served by Time Warner Cable. No other infrastructure was provided to the building when Lee took occupancy in 2002. Meanwhile, adjacent developments including Mayfair Mall also lacked broadband connectivity.

“We started off with ISDN lines, which were comparatively fast but nothing in comparison with the full T-1 connection,” Sherman said.

Finding a workaround


“The telecoms didn’t want to spend the thousands of dollars necessary to extend a circuit out there for a tenant worth a tenth of that,” said Karl Radke, president of Cyberlynk Network in Franklin, Wisconsin.

Lee worked with Cyberlynk and then-building owners Great Lakes Real Estate Investment Trust to devise a broadband solution.

“Greg was very instrumental in all of this,” Radke said. “He worked as the hinge between us and One Park mangement, as well as their management in Detroit, to explore the concept, sign other tenenants to spread the cost and ultimately gained approval. What we did was extend a physical ethernet connection to that building from our local point of presence. And then we put a wireless Internet access point on top of the 22-story building. This allows us to provide cost-effective wireless connectivity to other buildings in the area, and helps us make the situation financially viable.”

The negotiated solution allowed Park One Associates to get high-speed broadband connection and high-quality video conferencing and helped other building tenants and surrounding businesses to boot.

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The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, & do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wisconsin Technology Network, LLC. (WTN). WTN, LLC accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.

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