Not long ago, video conferencing was science fiction - now it's a key part of many enterprises' communication strategy. According to a survey conducted by LifeSize, 51% of mid-sized enterprises polled use video conferencing and the majority of those that don't are planning to. And it's getting cheaper, easier and more ubiquitous. Several pieces of news in the past couple weeks are illuminating some key trends in enterprise video conferencing. Here's what we're seeing.

Consumerization

Cisco is expected to announce a consumer version of its high-end TelePresence line tomorrow. But the consumerization trend runs both ways - with consumer technology such as Skype finding its way into the boardroom.

Our competitor Michael Arrington said about Skype in In a recent Inc. profile:

The video quality is great. When you go full screen, it's like the other person is in the room. Skype also has screen sharing, so the person can hit a button and I can see their desktop. I use it a lot for business

He's right, and that's probably why 37% of Skype users use the service for business purposes. Cisco should be worried about Skype - both for sales of TelePresense and for sales of WebEX. Not to mention Skype announced that its hiring Cisco senior executive Tony Bates as its new CEO.

Nefsis launched its own freemium service Nefsis Basic last week. Nefsis uses intelligent routing to find the nearest servers to speed up video and improve quality. Representatives from the company told me they see themselves competing with WebEx and Citrix's GoToMeeting more than Skype, but I see it as an additional free or low-cost alternative for enterprises trying to save money. Of those polled in the LifeSize survey, only 35% are planning to increase video
conferencing budgets in the next 12 to 18 months.

Mobility

Last week RIM announced the BlackBerry Playbook, an enterprise tablet with video and video conferencing central to its design. The Playbook will be joined by Android based tablets from Cisco and Avaya (see our coverage here and here). With an increasingly mobile workforce, taking video conferencing

The iPhone 4 has caught on shockingly fast in the enterprise, and it brings Apple's FaceTime protocol with it. We haven't heard much about enterprises formally adopting FaceTime but it could really take off if enough companies adopt the standard.

Interoperability

Which brings us to interoperability. As we've noted, Cisco is pushing its own Telepresence Interoperability Protocol (TIP), but it's not yet clear what standard(s) will emerge.

UCIF (Unified Communications Interoperability Forum) is a non-profit alliance consisting of several UC vendors including Microsoft, Logitech/LifeSized and Polycom. Exactly where UC and video conferencing standards are going remains to be seen, but given the interest in Apple products from enterprises, don't be surprised to see more big vendors support it.

Polycom spokesperson Cullen Childress couldn't confirm whether FaceTime is something the company is actively working on, but did say that Polycom would love to be able to tlak to iPhones.

Social Layer

Adding a "social layer" is a trend for pretty much everything in enterprise, and video conferencing is no exception. Last week Facebook and Skype partnered to integrate

This sort of social integration is central to Quad, Cisco's enterprise social platform. Quad integrates social networking, instant messaging, voice and video into one system that can also hook into Active Directory, Exchange and SharePoint.

Google Voice is, rather obviously, just voice right now - but it would be surprising if it didn't add video at some point in the near future. so far Google Voice has been left out of Google Apps, but I expect that UC will be a part of Google enterprise strategy in the future. It's no secret that Google is interested in social, and UC would be a good place for it to do so.