Verizon Ready for ūmi Mania

Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) sees Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO)'s new ūmi home telepresence system as a great way to sell more FiOS fiber-to-the-home, as well as premium offerings such as telemedicine, distance learning, and more. (See Cisco's TelePresence Enters New Chamber.)

Based on employee testing of the ūmi this year over both FiOS and other broadband services, Verizon is convinced personal videoconferencing is ready to take off -- assuming that people are ready to pay for it, says John Broten, Verizon's director of consumer product development.

That's why Verizon will be reselling ūmi in early 2011, bundling its cost on Verizon bills and providing customer support, Broten says.

"This is an experience that I think is kind of revolutionary and different, as we move from PC Webcam-based stuff to bringing a differentiating experience to the best screen in the house -- the HD screen in the family room where the family already congregates," Broten says.

Verizon believes it's a short step from getting the videoconferencing service to let kids talk to Grandma to commercial opportunities such as in-home communications with doctors, personal trainers, teachers, and more.

"What we have here is a solution that tomorrow a doctor or a personal trainer could put into their office or studio and begin to make it known that they have Cisco ūmi with Verizon telepresence service," Broten says. "Their customers might be interested in saving a trip to the gym or the tutor or the doctor. There are some low-hanging fruit that can be developed to get that B to C market going without having to build out an ecosystem."

Verizon is, of course, touting the fact that Cisco ūmi will work better on its FiOS service than on cable hybrid-fiber offerings or DSL, particularly because of the higher upstream bandwidth.

Broten says Verizon's field experience shows most consumers could install the ūmi out of the box in 15 to 20 minutes, although more complex installations might require a professional's touch.

Pricing is a sensitive issue and one Verizon is still discussing, he admits. As today's J.D. Powers 2010 TV Residential Service Survey shows, consumers are much more price-sensitive now, in part because of the economy's stubborn refusal to recover. (See AT&T, Verizon Top JD Power TV Ratings.)

"We are still looking at pricing," Broten says. "Any time you go to market with something that is new and different particularly in a time when disposable income is a little fragile, that is a challenge. But we think the time is right for this technology."

Broten noted that in his own family's experience, his wife quickly became very comfortable with video chatting while one of his employees found his young nieces and nephews much easier to talk with via video than over the phone. It's the kind of personal touch that he believes consumers will embrace if they give videoconferencing a chance.

That's why Verizon will likely be joining Cisco in some of its demos in the coming months, hoping to intrigue customers who will either add ūmi to their FiOS service or buy FiOS to get ūmi in all its glory.

One market Broten isn't touting is the telework universe. Teleworkers, he concedes, are more likely to huddle over their PCs than frolic in the family room.

— Carol Wilson, Chief Editor, Events, Light Reading

Chuckw 12/5/2012 | 4:21:41 PM
re: Verizon Ready for ūmi Mania

I believe Mr. Broten is incorrect with his comment that "Teleworkers are more likely to huddle over their PCs than frolic in the family room"

Video collaboration is the next big step for telework and the elimination of travel to not only the office on a daily basis but also for loong distance face to face meetings.

Avoiding one cross country trip can pay for the necessary technology. And, when the benefits to the environment and our energy security are included this is THE application to help take telework to the next level.


Chuck Wilsker

President & CEO

The Telework Coalition

Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 4:21:28 PM
re: Verizon Ready for ūmi Mania

Actually, Cisco says telework is one application Umi is *not* built for.

In part, that might be becuase Umi doesn't interoperate with Tandberg yet. But Cisco also intentionally left out some of the features that corporate telepresence users consider vital, like Outlook scheduling integration, and a one-button logon.

So while the telework possiblity is there, Cisco people at the Umi launch event said that it's not what they had in mind.  I agree.  For most telework videoconferencing, Skype on a PC is good enough.

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