Verizon Beefs Up Video Conferencing

Verizon Business's new HD video conferencing is no telepresence, but the price of $0 could be attractive

Raymond McConville

January 25, 2008

2 Min Read
Verizon Beefs Up Video Conferencing

How's this for price competition: Some vendors can outfit you with telepresence for $300,000 but Verizon Enterprise Solutions says it's got the next best thing for zero.

As of yesterday, Verizon is letting video conferencing customers upgrade to high-definition video. As long as the equipment on the customer's end supports HD and the customer has the required bandwidth of about 1 Mbit/s, the only necessary upgrade is an HD video codec. For customers that have all this in place, there's no cost to upgrade to HD video conferencing. (See VZB Boosts Conferencing.)

Compare that to the average telepresence offering, which requires at least several Mbit/s of bandwidth per video screen and a price tag of around $300,000 per room. (See Cisco, Nortel Tee Off in Telepresence.)

Of course, Verizon is only offering HD video, not telepresence. The main difference, according to telepresence vendors like Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Nortel Networks Ltd. , or Teliris Ltd. , is whether or not you feel like you're in the same room as the other person. Telepresence uses features like directional audio to achieve this illusion; video conferencing typically doesn't bother.

The seemingly major difference doesn't discourage Verizon.

"What we've found is that all the noise surrounding telepresence has actually brought a lot of interest to HD video conferencing," says Roberta Mackintosh, executive director of product marketing for Verizon Business.

Mackintosh acknowledges that telepresence is more immersive, but she notes that HD video conferencing offers the same kinds of benefits: reduced travel, or enhanced collaboration and productivity in the workplace.

One limitation in Verizon's initial release of HD conferencing is that it can only communicate with other end users that also support HD -- meaning it can't talk to standard-definition video conferencing. The service is, however, interoperable with other HD vendors such as Polycom Inc. (Nasdaq: PLCM) and Tandberg ASA (OSE: TAA).

While Verizon's new video conferencing service might not have all the bells and whistles of telepresence, Verizon feels its lower use of bandwidth and lower cost could help it catch on. Still, the company acknowledges that telepresence has its place.

"I think we all will have one or two or three locations in the world where we'll want to take that high-end immersive experience," says Mackintosh. It's just that most companies will want "different ranges" of products overall, she adds.

While Verizon does not have a telepresence offering of its very own, it resells equipment from Cisco, Polycom Inc. (Nasdaq: PLCM), and Tandberg ASA (OSE: TAA) to its enterprise customers. Verizon has no plans to design its own offering, but Mackintosh says that would be considered if the demand emerges.

"I think it's a bit early to tell what's going to win out," Mackintosh says.

— Raymond McConville, Reporter, Light Reading

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