Can Vidtel Beat Cisco to Consumer Video?

Cisco may be preparing its consumer video-conferencing announcement for next week, but little Vidtel Inc. , a privately owned company, is actually in that market today.

Vidtel is combining two hot topics -- cloud-based services and telepresence -- into one service offering that can use any vendors' videoconferencing endpoints. And while Vidtel has largely flown under the radar to date, the company believes it is poised for a breakout year as it looks for service provider partners.

The company launched in 2008 and was considered more of a consumer play, but of late has been targeting business video users who can't afford high-end telepresence services and equipment, and working with channel partners to sell the system. CEO Scott Wharton, who's probably best known for his nine years as VP marketing for BroadSoft Inc. , thinks his company is poised for a video service explosion.

"We are working with lots of channel partners, but we'd like to expand," says Wharton. "We've spent a lot of time hardening the network and getting it ready to grow. We've built things out slowly but methodically to do things in a carrier-grade way. We think we can be part of the process when video explodes."

Vidtel is selling a hosted video conferencing service, the Vitel Multipoint (Meet Me) Video Conferencing Service, that lets any subscribing business reach any other subscribing business, using whatever video equipment endpoints they have, regardless of the vendor and type. That includes everything from a PC-based videocam to a high-end telepresence unit.

Vidtel provides the video infrastructure, including servers and bridging, and the interoperability across different vendor gear, for point-to-point service, which it offers for a basic monthly fee of $40, and multipoint conferencing, which it bills on a per-minute basis.

Either service solves key problems for small and mid-sized businesses that want to use videoconferencing, Wharton says. First, they don't have to invest in expensive server infrastructure, making the startup much faster, and second, they can use video communications both inside and outside their company, since Vidtel enables interoperability among different vendor gear.

"Today, there are proprietary video islands -- some Polycom, some Tandberg, some Lifesize -- and then you've got Google and Skype," says Marriette Johnson Wharton, vice president of marketing. "Today, we can support 90 percent of the standard SIP-based end points, we've built a gateway for Skype, and we are working on an Android app as well."

Vidtel provides its subscribers with standard IP addresses that they can use to connect with other businesses. Calls can be on-demand, Johnson Wharton says, and the system is designed for easy set-up. And Vidtel handles issues with corporate firewalls, while enabling security of the service outside the firewall.

Like other videoconferencing services, Vidtel's can be used to reduce business travel by holding face-to-face meetings but also is being used by doctors' offices, organizations with widely distributed staff, and branch offices needed to stay in touch with headquarters, says Scott Wharton.

If the consumer market takes off, with some help from Cisco, the CEO believes Vidtel will be able to help service provider partners get into the market faster, and take advantage of the broadband networks they have built, particularly fiber to the home. He says Vidtel has two service provider partners and is talking to many more.

Vidtel is keeping its funding quiet for the time being, and Wharton will only say that he has "angel" investors who have stayed with the company through a few funding rounds, the size of which he doesn't disclose.

But he insists Vidtel is ready to grow rapidly and scale its technology to deliver mass-market services, competing even with a giant like Cisco.

— Carol Wilson, Chief Editor, Events, Light Reading

macemoneta 12/5/2012 | 4:22:16 PM
re: Can Vidtel Beat Cisco to Consumer Video?

Consumers already have video conferencing / chatting, and it's free to them.  Even so, there's little interest.  If they are going to try to convince consumers that their implementation is better, they are going to have a steep uphill battle - for a very niche market.  I can't imagine why they would even enter into this.

MarietteWharton 12/5/2012 | 4:22:13 PM
re: Can Vidtel Beat Cisco to Consumer Video?

It's hard to argue that there is little demand for consumer video when Skype has 560 million users and 30% of all call traffic is video.  Although it's true that many consumers have video chat and it's free, the technologies are proprietary so there is an interoperability problem.  Vidtel is taking these closed systems and putting them on our open network so they work together, just the way your mobile phones and regular phones seamlessly work (can you imagine if iPhone users could only talk to other iPhone users?). We started with the standard video conferencing equipment and have plans to add proprietary systems such as Skype, Google and Apple and later mobile.  We are device-agnostic; the vision is for total interop of any video-enabled endpoint whether it's on a PC/Mac, an executive desktop system or a room system. One benefit is that this would enable a telecommuter, a mobile user or someone working from a hotel room to gain entry into an HD video conference at their company HQ or a partner company regardless of their technology choice.  We see demand at businesses of all sizes with dispersed teams to include people working from home.

alandal 12/5/2012 | 4:22:09 PM
re: Can Vidtel Beat Cisco to Consumer Video?

I can understand the interoperability advantage. But I don't see how they solve the problem. Where is the mid-point where some sort of two-way adaptation (protocol translations/transcoding) takes place?  Vidtel is building this?  Would that be the major bottleneck?  They must be so well founded…

AND some one would actually be willing to pay a fee?

As for QoS, I'm not sure the HD is guaranteed by this type of service, rather it's more infrastructure related. Building this on top of open network, you cannot be guaranteed anything even in your presidential suite...

Or I missed something…Clouds?

cnwedit 12/5/2012 | 4:22:09 PM
re: Can Vidtel Beat Cisco to Consumer Video?

You raise a good point about the HD. My assumption was that videoconferencing among different end points could only be as good as the lowest quality endpoint, but Vidtel might say differently.

What Vidtel has built is a network-based system that does all that interconnection, which they are now calling cloud-based, since that's the way we are headed. That's there secret sauce.

As to who will pay for it, they are primarily targeting businesses, which will use video conferencing to eliminate costly travel, and do some of the applications discussed in the article. For example, one cusotmer is dermatology practice with multiple offices that is using videoconferencing to eliminate the need to doctors to drive around to do consultations or hold staff meetings.

On the consumer side, there are a number of folks who think videoconferencing is the killer app for FTTH, and we'll see. Cisco could give the market a big push next week.

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