Videoconferencing Poised to Explode – Again?
This summer's flurry of activity in the videoconferencing space has at least one analyst predicting the rise of small-business interest in the video communication. The greater availability and lower prices for telepresence and the proliferation of video-capable devices, may bring videoconferencing closer to being ubiquitous.
At the high end of the market, telepresence continues to percolate, and mobile video is expected to take hold, leading to yet another prediction that videoconferencing is about to explode.
But since such an outcome has been so often inaccurately forecast in the past, even Robert Poe, principal analyst with VoIP Evolution and the man predicting video will spike among small and medium-sized businesses (SMB), is hedging his bets. In discussing his report, "SMB Video Conferencing: Getting Beyond Clouds & Interoperability," Poe admits that while "all the signs are there for videoconferencing to take off, you can't say anything for certain."
Those signs include a cascade of announcements from companies such as 8x8 Inc. (Nasdaq: EGHT), Blue Jeans Network , BroadSoft Inc. , LifeSize Communications Inc. , Polycom Inc. (Nasdaq: PLCM), Telesphere , Vidtel Inc. , Vidyo Inc. and others. (See Telesphere Launches Cloud Videoconferencing andPolycom to Buy HP's Halo.)
"Companies like Blue Jeans are getting a lot of beta customers," says Poe of the cloud-based video networking service. Meanwhile, companies such as BroadSoft, which offers hosted VoIP, are adding hosted video, and hardware players are driving down the cost of their systems and adding cloud options.
The SMB interest in videoconferencing is being stimulated by video services at the high end -- telepresence -- and the low end -- Skype. SMBs want the quality of a telepresence connection without the cost of building immersive telepresence rooms, Poe comments, and they like the ubiquity of Skype but want something more professional.
The problem for the videoconferencing companies will be convincing small businesses to actually pay for that higher level of service, he admits. It's hard to beat free.
Then there are specific applications driving interest as well. Vidyo recently announced deployment of its gear by the Ontario Telemedicine Network, which links hundreds of hospitals and clinics across the province.
The appeal of a company such as Vidyo is that its adaptive video technology uses whatever bandwidth is available, says Andrew W. Davis, senior partner with Wainhouse Research . That means SMBs or distributed enterprises can use the Internet to link video clients to a centralized server, because (See Vidyo Aims to Lower Price of Telepresence.)
Separately, a Heavy Reading report issued this summer noted the entertainment industry's growing use of telepresence to improve collaboration and increase productivity. (See Telepresence Takes the Show on the Road.)
Telepresence growing steadily
At the high end of the market, telepresence could be boosted by the availability of cloud-based services or less expensive gear. Corporations that are buying large telepresence rooms to connect their remote locations are figuring out ways to expand their reach.
Stewart Weaver, program director of technical operations at InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), says his firm easily justified the cost of AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) telepresence rooms in Atlanta and London, to link its U.S. and global headquarters, by the reduction in executive flights. Then, IHG used AT&T's video exchange and telepresence rooms operated by its vendor, Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), to hold more telepresence meetings, particularly in places such as Asia, to eliminate that long-distance travel.
Now, IHG is planning to offer telepresence to its hotel guests and looking at mobile options to enable connections to tablet computers and more, Weaver says. None of that was possible with teleconferencing in the past, because the quality of the picture and the delays inherent to the audio made normal conversations impossible.
"Now, we can do executive interviews, and we've started doing training," Weaver says. "We are hoping [more widespread connections] become real to us in the next nine to 12 months."
With more video-enabled devices in the hands of end-users, video becomes more of an application than a service, says analyst Davis.
"I think we're entering an age, with tablets, iPads, cellphones, PCs -- where video is being enabled on a variety of devices and a variety of apps. It's not going to be viewed as a separate service, but as something you add with the push of a button," he says.
Service providers will have a play in providing a service, cloud-based or otherwise, if they take the complexity out of connecting a lot of different endpoints, Davis adds.
Tata Communications Ltd. is betting heavily on telepresence but is also expecting mobile video to become part of that play, says Dave Ryan, Tata's senior vice president for the Americas. (See Tata Touts Next-Gen Strategy.)
Ryan concedes that telepresence hasn't taken off as fast as once thought but is expecting that to change shortly as large corporations use it to connect not just internally but with external sources -- customers and suppliers -- and as mobile devices become endpoints for video services.
"We are not offering it today, but it is the next phase of the B2B adoption," he says. "How we integrate the one-person endpoint as opposed to the multiperson-room endpoint, that is where we are spending a lot of time and energy on our development and strategy planning."
— Carol Wilson, Chief Editor, Events, Light Reading