The University of Bolton education centre operates on an international scale with an array of partner institutions and global research and teaching initiatives, spanning six time zones. As such, maintaining smooth and convenient communication with colleagues is of high importance, both locally and on the far end.
However, without a universal platform, organising long-distance calls had presented problems with global partners unable to connect with ease. Beyond key issues of poor call quality and increased costs, services such as Skype and WhatsApp, that were formerly relied upon by the university, remain outright banned in crucial territories, which proved a major hinderance to the goal of bridging the gap.
Furthermore, the existing meeting rooms onsite at the university were inefficient in meeting the needs of its large faculty, containing no specialist conferencing technology installed, meaning that staff relied on a laptop and standard desktop PC to make and receive calls.
Given these hindrances, the University of Bolton was keen to upgrade and take their meetings and conferences to the next level. In charge of ensuring the revitalisation of the University’s communications was Academic Partnership Manager, Yusuf Giga. For this task, he enlisted AVM.
The AVM Solution
It was clear that given the global scale of the University’s communications, and the differing resources available to those on the far end, a flexible solution was necessary to accommodate as many devices as possible.
We decided a cloud-based VMR (Virtual Meeting Room) would serve as a powerful medium to link colleagues together no matter their hardware, forgoing the reliance on traditional methods of video conferencing. In practical terms, this means that meeting participants can join the University’s VMR through whatever means are most convenient. For instance, attendees are invited through a custom link, which presents several methods of joining the room – be it a web browser, standard phone call or video conferencing client of their choice.
The University has full control as the host and can schedule meetings to be livestreamed onto their YouTube channels, opening up the possibility of an unlimited number of live viewers, but also as a means of recording sessions for future playback. This functionality can be especially useful for learning purposes, as students are afforded the means to review and replay the session to further their understanding.
Meeting Room Technology
For the physical AV, a large 70” LED display was installed in Meeting Room 1, ideal for accommodating a large number of on-screen meeting participants simultaneously.
Underneath, a Polycom EagleEye™ camera transmits a crystal-clear HD image and wide field of view for coverage of the whole room, including the flexibility to pan, tilt and zoom to focus on particular attendees or items of interest.
Crystal-clear sound being one of the most important factors for a successful meeting, and particularly given Bolton’s extensive international presence, reducing the physical barrier of distance through unobstructed, easily-understood communication reinforces this need even more. Given this, AVM chose to implement a 360-degree, ceiling microphone array that would ensure speakers can be heard no matter where they may be seated in the room. Inbuilt directional audio technology allows the mics to ‘zone in’ and isolate an individual local participant, so they can be heard as clearly as possible.
Due to the unpredictability of the infrastructure in place for those on the far end, it was important to fit a speaker that would allow for maximum audio clarity and perceptibility. For the benefit of the local faculty, a high-powered sound bar with DSP processing brings out the detail in sound from external participants.
Next, a crucial consideration for the University’s meetings is the ability to present one’s screen. Accomplishing this should be as simple as possible without having to mess with cables or installing additional software. For this reason, AVM opted to include VIA GO – an easy to use, plug and play, wireless presenting system. All the user has to do is connect the USB touch pad into their laptop, run the portable program and press the button – content will now be viewable on-screen; ready to present locally or through the VMR during a call.
Powering the video conferencing itself, and aware of the University’s requirement for consistently smooth calls, AVM commissioned a Polycom RealPresence Codec. The benefit of this being the inclusion of a dedicated port, enabling higher-bandwidth calls than would be possible through a standard browser.
Finally for Meeting Room 1, a wall keypad was fitted to control powering the system ON and OFF, switching between Video Conferencing and Wireless Presenting and volume control.
We got in touch with Yusuf after the completion of the works to get his feedback:
Did you find the project installation to be carried out satisfactorily?
“The engineers from AVM were great – the installation and programming were completed on time and in a highly professional manner, a really good service.”
How did staff find getting to grips with the new system?
“The faculty have adjusted well to the new system, stopped using the old methods immediately, and found it easy to use, which was great to see. In the beginning we were using the VMR as more of a testing ground, primarily for meetings, but our plan now is to use the facilities here for long-distance teaching, having a class on the far end join our VMR and be participants in the lesson.”
What made you decide on AVM?
“At the time I had been considering a few different audiovisual companies, but what sold me in the end was being invited to see AVM’s facilities by the Krishan (MD) personally. I was really impressed with the facilities there – the large boardroom, and particularly the training room was just what we were looking for. That along with the personal, local service that could continually support our 40+ regular internal users. And I had made my decision right there on the day.”
Would you recommend AVM?
“Definitely. If we had to do it again, we’d always use AVM. The level of professionalism has been first-standard throughout the process. The far end, where we had most of the issues prior to the new system, has been simple and effective. Having someone local who can respond in real-time with a personal touch, the ability to just make a quick phone call with the engineers who answer anything you need, was exactly what we were looking for.”