All Further Education (FE) and Higher Education (HE) Institutions in Wales are now part of an integrated national video network.
The demand for a national videoconferencing network for HE was highlighted in a report commissioned by the Heads of Higher Education in Wales in 1998. The United Kingdom Education and Research Network Association (UKERNA) in 1999 undertook a further detailed study covering both sectors for ELWa (then the Welsh Funding Councils). This study provided further evidence of the demand for an integrated national video network embracing both Further and Higher Education. The study also showed that, whilst desktop videoconferencing is widely deployed in both the FE and HE sectors only five HE Institutions had dedicated videoconferencing studios. It was clear that both sectors were keen to develop their use of videoconferencing, particularly for distance learning and teaching purposes. Therefore, the focus of this project was to provide at least 80 high quality networked video studios for all of the institutions in Wales.
ELWa contracted the project management to deliver the network to UKERNA. The Welsh Video Network Support Centre was established with staff based at Swansea and Aberystwyth, using the same model as the Regional Support Centre Wales.
Equipment for the studios, provided as part of a central procurement, includes:
The environment for videoconferencing requires particular attention if the highest quality sound and vision signals are to be transmitted and received. Every institution and college received funds for furnishing new studios. A document (in .pdf format) providing advice and guidance on the selection and furnishing of rooms for videoconferencing activities for the Welsh Video Network is available.
Initially, most videoconferencing calls used ISDN (ISDN2 or ISDN6). A central call charge budget was established for the FE sector. All ISDN conferences are managed by and booked through the well-established JANET Videoconferencing Service (JVCS). In order to use the JVCS, studios must pass a Quality Assurance test. As the project progressed a transition was made towards the use of IP for videoconferencing, supported locally through the WVN Support Centre.
As part of the WVN project a Contacts Group was established with representatives from all institutions across Wales. The group met regularly at Project Briefing Days. A number of email discussion lists have also been established which facilitate the dissemination of information and provide site managers with an efficient way of highlighting problems or issues.
A WVN Rollout Group was also established. This included members from the FE and HE sectors, the Regional Area Networks and UKERNA. The purpose of the Rollout Group was to monitor the commissioning of the studios, provide a forum for discussion on wider issues such as regional networking and to make recommendations to the Project Manager concerning the rollout and support of the studios.