Video conferencing is a communications technology that integrates video and voice to connect remote users with each other as if they were in the same room. Each user needs a computer, webcam, microphone, and broadband internet connection for participation in video conferencing. Users see and hear each other in realtime, allowing natural conversations not possible with voice-only communications technology.
Communications companies have been dabbling in video conferencing technology since as early as the late 50s, but it took the advent of broadband internet and affordable web cameras (late 90s) for video conferencing to really take off. Good bandwidth is necessary for high-fidelity streaming video and voice. Video conferencing took a serious step into mass use with the release of Microsoft Netmeeting 3.0 in 1999. Now there are dozens of software vendors marketing video conferencing software and a number of investors interested in bringing video conferencing to mobile devices.
Very appealing to the educational and business sectors, video conferencing allows users to save time and money on travelling and housing costs by bringing people face-to-face virtually. Many prominent universities have adopted video conferencing as an educational tool to be used in conjunction with online courses. Business leaders around the world use video conferencing to keep in touch with important contacts while on the go.
Present-day applications of video conferencing technology are just the beginning. As video and voice capture technology, software, and display technologies continue to improve, the experience of video conferencing will become increasingly natural and intuitive to a wider range of users. Eventually video conferencing and similar technologies will allow the creation of "virtual cities", online spaces where people work together without the constraint of geographic proximity. This may decrease urban congestion and save the environment by making it possible for skilled workers living in the suburbs to acquire high-paying jobs without the commute.