Information Services Division



FAQ - Frequently Asked Questions

In this section we look at some Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) surrounding video-conferencing at UCL.

What is video-conferencing?

Video-conferencing is the use of telecommunications and computer networks to transmit and receive simultaneous video and audio to different sites, thus enabling real-time communication between people at remote sites around the world.

This communication can be between just two sites (point-to-point) or between several sites simultaneously.

Video-conferencing at UCL is available in one of the following guises...

  • on a dial-up basis using digital ISDN lines 
  • over the Internet using what is known as Internet Protocol (IP).

There are advantages and disadvantages in each technology and users may need advice on the appropriate technology for their requirements.

Why would you use video-conferencing?

Video-conferencing can be used to:

  • hold meetings
  • carry out interviews
  • give seminars
  • teach

Video-conferencing was initially developed to permit meetings to take place between people some distance apart, and its commercial viability depends upon it being cheaper and more convenient than travelling.

When video-conferencing is used for teaching it is often more effective for small groups of students at each site. Lectures can be delivered from large lecture theatres, although other factors involving lighting and audio come to the fore.

It is also possible to share computer applications over video-conferencing links to enable participants to examine diagrams and documents at each site and to make changes as required.

Over the last few years within UCL video-conferencing has been used for:

a) meetings between two or more sites saving time and travel

  • committee meetings
  • working in collaborative groups between two or more universities
  • examiners' meetings
  • interviewing potential candidates from other parts of the world

b) seminars and conferences

  • participation in remote seminars
  • giving papers to remote conferences
  • tele-medicine conferences ­ with live links into operating theatres.

c) teaching and learning

  • discussion amongst a distributed group
  • giving or receiving specially-broadcast lectures
  • small group teaching
  • tele-medicine training

What video-conferencing facilities exist at UCL?

UCL has a number of video-conferencing facilities available in 4 lecture theatres and a dedicated space in the South Wing.

The Client Platform Services department within ISD, is responsible for installing and maintaining the centrally bookable video-conferencing equipment and infrastructure used within UCL.


Booking a video-conference will mean you will need to pre book one of the specially equipped lecture theatres, for the whole duration of your conference.

Depending on where and when you want to hold your video-conference, a video-conferencing room and lecture theatre can be booked through one of the following departments:

  • ISD - Client Platform Services
  • Estates & Facilities - Room Bookings
  • UCL Medical School

Which facility to use?

Which facility you will want to use for your video-conference, and ultimately how you can book it, will be determined by a number of factors. These include:

  1. Which UCL building the video-conferencing room or lecture theatre resides
  2. Seating capacity of room or lecture theatre
  3. Time of video-conference
  4. Specialist facilities needed for video-conference e.g. multiple site video-conferencing
  5. Staff availability to oversee your video-conference

What are the differences in cost and quality between using ISDN and IP for video-conferencing?


ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network) video-conferencing uses
multiple digital telephone lines to connect sites involved in a
video--conference. Like a normal voice telephone call there is a cost
involved in using ISDN. If we make the call to a remote site, we have to
pass the cost on to the user. The cost depends both on the number of
lines used (more lines = better quality) and the location of the remote

Two ISDN lines provide quality equivalent to the video-telephone reports
sometimes seen on television news, whilst six ISDN lines is equivalent to a domestic
VHS video-recorder (but at three times the cost). For an informal
conference or interview we have found that ISDN-2 (two lines) is acceptable.

See the following ISDN call costs document for more details...


IP (Internet Protocol) video-conferencing uses the Internet to connect
sites involved in a video-conference. Unlike ISDN using IP is essentially

The quality of an IP video-conference depends on multiple factors but is
normally somewhere between that provided by ISDN-2 and ISDN-6.

Since ISDN lines are not shared the call quality during a ISDN
video-conference is guaranteed whereas because the Internet is a shared
medium call quality cannot be guaranteed during an IP conference.

In practice this does not seem to be too much of a problem. The quality
during a test is normally the same as that during the conference itself.

The choice between using IP or ISDN depends on facilities available at
the remote site (some sites can only use one of them) and cost. If both
are available, we recommend using IP.

What are the cost of using video-conferencing facilities?

  • If a conference is for people outside of UCL or is for non academic purposes (such as consultancy), we charge a fee or use of our facilities.
  • If a conference is for purely UCL academic purposes (such as an interview for a job at UCL or for teaching), we do not charge facility fees.

In all cases we will pass on the call cost if we have to make a connection for an ISDN conference and will also charge if a conference is held outside normal UCL working-hours (09:00 to 17:00 Monday to Friday when the College is open).

Heavy Usage

Use of the centrally provided video-conferencing rooms is based on a first-come first-served basis. Departments who make heavy use of video-conferencing may want to consider installing their own equipment. If this is the case, the ISD CPS team can provide advice on purchase and installation of suitable equipment, however we cannot offer continuous support for the use and maintenance of such equipment.

Email: videocon@ucl.ac.uk or Tel ext: 09356 

Is it possible to have more than two sites in a video-conference?

We can host video-conferences involving two or more sites outside of UCL and these sites can use a mixture of ISDN or IP protocols.

If a conference is going to use more than two sites, we will need to do a test before the conference with all the sites involved.

In particular please do not assume that if you have a conference booked to one location, it is going to be a simple matter to add a second.

The Access Grid

Please note also that the Access Grid video-conferencing suite is set up specifically to cater for video-conferencing involving three or more sites.