• Type: Whitepaper
  • Topics: Control Systems; Audio; Networked Av Systems;
  • Date: July 2015

By Dan Daley, Special to AVIXA

BYODOne of the most significant shifts in AV has been the one that’s taken the touchscreen controller off the wall and put it in the pocket; the one that’s taken the presentation off the laptop hard drive and added it to the phone. The ability to control AV systems from a personal device, such as a tablet, has flipped the equation of system management. The prospect of collaborating with a smartphone (or a mash-up of two devices, the CE platypus known as the phablet), has necessitated new approaches to wireless integration. And the fact that seemingly everyone owns one of these devices and wants it to work seamlessly with whatever systems they encounter has put the user in control of AV, rather than AV capabilities dictating how users operate.

Whatever they’re called, mobile devices are ubiquitous, and AV system design and use are in the process of adapting to leverage their omnipresence, applying a broader application of the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) phenomenon that corporate IT departments have been integrating in recent years.

Driven to be Social

Tablets and the smartphones are affecting AV systems operation and design. Audio especially has seen a profound effect, with most sound platforms, including mix consoles and DSPs, incorporating some kind of remote controllability via apps loaded onto users’ devices. Video content from social media and other BYOD-operated sources — including, lately, airborne drones — is also finding its way into more conventional video content in presentations and meetings.

In fact, social media is perhaps the most compelling driver of BYOD integration into traditional AV applications. Ironically, that’s the opposite of how many corporate IT shops view the BYOD dynamic, where management is constantly seeking ways to discourage the use of apps like Facebook and Instagram on organizations’ networks. When associated with AV, however, those same social applications are viewed as portals to connect and extend a message, such as for a sales meeting or product launch.

“There’s nothing like that kind of instant feedback to engage someone,” says Howard Nunes, President and CEO of Pepperdash Technology Corp., a Boston-based control programming software and services provider.

But here’s where the use of a personal device in the enterprise environment becomes problematic and why AV professionals face a challenge enabling BYOD for AV and collaboration applications: Using an enterprise Wi-Fi infrastructure is generally frowned upon by IT managers.

“It’s all about protecting the corporate network,” Nunes emphasizes. When enterprise environments do use their facilities for large meetings, engineers will create a virtual “DMZ” — taken from the demilitarized zone terminology used to separate factions like North and South Korea — on the enterprise network.

“Corporate routers are set up to deflect anything but properly authenticated traffic,” says Nunes. “The first thing you need to establish, before you can engage people through their own devices, is how to get those devices on a network that you control, but doesn’t intrude upon your own secure network.”

Another challenge in using BYOD devices for enterprise AV systems is the fact that apps and device operating systems may only be compatible for unknown — and often brief — periods of time. This can be problematic as professional systems manufacturers migrate their control functionality to what are essentially consumer products. Apps such as AV control software can suddenly become inoperable if the tablet or smartphone OS gets an upgrade. And these upgrades can often be done automatically, in the background, during a routine backup. Next time BYOD users try to fire up such apps, they may be in for a surprise — especially if they’re in the middle of a meeting or presentation.

Specialized Apps

So what’s an AV pro to do? Build it yourself to support people who bring it themselves (the devices, that is)? That’s become a big part of the business for PSAV, which provides AV and event technology services. The company will manage for its clients the wireless connectivity required for BYOD, but it can also bring temporary Wi-Fi into spaces.

Mark Ligda, PSAV’s manager of mobile solutions, says apps are everywhere now, from those used by the live-sound mixers to audience response apps, where the personal device has replaced the wireless clickers that meeting organizers used to hand out and collect at the end of the conference. Social media has played a big role, Ligda says, but not without some prompting.

“Some uptake of social media has been really enthusiastic for the most part,” he says. “But in some cases users still print things like agendas. We keep telling them, if you keep printing it, people will keep taking it, so stop printing.” When everyone in a room has a connected device, it can be far easier and cost-effective to distribute content.

The growing integration of BYOD at meetings has prompted new products and services, such as PSAV’s bandwidth calculator, an online service that estimates the amount of broadband capacity an event might require based on square footage and number of attendees. Broadband In a Box is PSAV’s locally deployable, scalable wireless network product.

Ligda says the increased availability of Wi-Fi encourages the use of personal devices, which in turn is changing the nature of collaboration. He cites, as an example, how integrating questions sent by smartphone and tablet during meetings allows presenters to steer discussions in the right direction and adjust their presentations on-the-fly to be more productive.

“In some cases, we’ve seen panel moderators let audience questions self-aggregate on the screen as audience members vote on their own questions,” he says. “This has, in turn, reduced the need for wireless audience microphones, and that reduces the need for manpower, for people to stand in the audience and pass those microphones around. It also means that members of the audience, who might have been reluctant to speak up on a microphone, are now part of the conversation. The effect that BYOD is having on events is really very extensive and fundamental.”

At public events, BYOD integration opens a fresh can of worms — real-time social-media moderation. No one wants inflammatory or otherwise inappropriate content on a presentation screen. An entire cottage industry has grown up around this decidedly 21st-century conundrum, from companies with utilitarian-sounding names, such as Trade Show Social Media and TweetWall Pro. Both offer algorithmically-filtered or manually monitored real-time social-media moderation.

Putting a Charge into BYOD

BYOD for AV and collaboration can also lead to a slew of quotidian issues. For instance, constant use of devices means people need to recharge batteries — constantly. Event planners have increasingly implemented phone charging stations at meetings. But installed solutions, such as for corporate boardrooms or lobbies and lounges, must also consider device-charging when input/output panels and electrical outlets are designed and integrated into tables, lecterns and building infrastructure.

Ultimately, BYOD will become a game of cat-and-mouse, in terms of how AV and IT pros support it. After all, BYOD users are resource consumers and they aren’t always hip to where those resources come from — they just expect them.

Steve Greenblatt, owner of AV firm Control Concepts, foresees a time when the number of devices per person soars, compelling ever-wider broadband pipes at meetings and inside organizations.

“It’s not unusual to see people carrying two or three devices today,” he says. “We do a lot of business with universities and they estimate that students will have as many as four or five wireless devices with them at all times, between phones, iPads, laptops, watches and wearables. Combine that with the move to streaming video and that’s an enormous strain on a system.”