Hard to believe it's been more than a decade since Verizon Wireless coined, "Can you hear me now?" These days, mobile operators might consider a campaign that asks, "Can you see me now?"
No, we're not referring to streaming mobile video services such as Netflix and YouTube. As the new Heavy Reading 4G/LTE Insider, "Mobile Video Conferencing: Cutting the Endpoint Cord," explains, two-way video services are growing at a rapid pace in terms of product selection and adoption.
"About 30 percent of our meetings have at least one mobile device," says Stu Aaron, chief commercial officer at Blue Jeans Network, a provider of cloud-based video conferencing services. "Overall, mobile devices are about 6 percent of our endpoint mix right now, but it's one of the fastest-growing segments." A competitor, Vidtel, says about 25 percent to 50 percent of its services' participants currently use mobile devices.
Why? One reason is growing smartphone and tablet penetration in enterprises of every size. Virtually all these devices have a forward-facing camera, 3G and WiFi, if not Long Term Evolution (LTE), too. Video conferencing vendors such as LifeSize and Radvision recognized this trend and have spent the past year-plus rolling out apps that enable those devices to double as endpoints.
For enterprises, part of the attraction is that mobile offers a low-cost way to extend video conferencing throughout their organization as opposed to spending $500 or more to equip each employee with a purpose-built endpoint. For video conferencing vendors, mobile will both cannibalize and drive endpoint sales. That's because when more employees can use video conferencing, the greater the return on those companies' investments in room-based and executive desktop systems, which serve completely different needs. Mobile video conferencing also could become another way for contact centers to cater to consumers whose preferred or only Internet device is a smartphone or tablet.
The rise of mobile video conferencing is, like so many other services, a mixed bag for mobile operators. On the plus side, it could encourage enterprises to increase the size -- and thus spend -- of their mobile data plans. But unless mobile operators can find a way to add value, video conferencing is yet another over-the-top (OTT) service that relegates them to dumb-pipe status.
A few mobile operators are already staking their claim. For example, Telefónica is the sole owner of TokBox, a startup that provides a cloud framework that mobile developers can use to build video conferencing into their apps. Mobile operators also can look to their wired counterparts for potential strategies. For years, telcos such as AT&T Inc. and Deutsche Telekom AG have offered wired video conferencing packages for the enterprise market as a way to sell faster connections and reduce churn through multi-service relationships.
Mobile operators also could use quality of service (QoS), tariffs or both to add value in customers' eyes and differentiate their video conferencing services from those of OTT providers. "The operator-provided service should have a significant advantage and better quality," says Michael Axelsson, director of the Visual Communication Program at Ericsson. "The quality and simplicity should be an advantage and a differentiation for business users."
Will it, though? We're about to find out.
— Tim Kridel, Contributing Analyst, Heavy Reading 4G/LTE Insider
This report,"Mobile Video Conferencing: Cutting the Endpoint Cord," is available as part of an annual subscription (6 issues per year) to Heavy Reading 4G/LTE Insider, priced at $1,595. Individual reports are available for $900. To subscribe, please visit: www.heavyreading.com/4glte.