Background

This ambitious and exciting project, funded to £3.1M by Education and Learning Wales (ELWa) and to £2.4M by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), was the first of its kind in the UK to involve both the FE and HE sectors.‌  

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 ( Welsh Video Network  PDF) covering both sectors for ELWa (then the Welsh Funding Councils). This study ( Welsh Video Network PDF) 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 kat 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:

  • A studio equipment controller
  • A videoconferencing CODEC incorporating both ISDN and IP
  • Two remote control cameras and a document camera
  • Monitors, microphones and a VCR
  • Data and application sharing facilities
  • A projector and an interactive electronic whiteboard

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 advise and guidance ( Studios PDF) 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 (insert link). 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.