Smile, It's For You
Guess what? Video calling has arrived.
Sometimes the shifts are so obvious that we don't see them. As I write this now, there are four cameras pointing at my desk chair. Video communications, which always seemed more gimmick than useful, is slowly penetrating my work day. It is not uncommon for me to have 2-3 video calls a day.
I don't have many regrets about being dismissive of video over the years. The equipment and bandwidth were expensive, the quality was crappy, interoperability was largely mythical, and it's been around forever as a curiosity--intriguing at best. I've been reluctant to consciously change my perspective, but suddenly I have a different picture.
My Skype calls began to transition more frequently to video. Skype not only offered click to video chat, but a huge user base actually making it possible. On a Skype chat, I am more likely to say hi to others--like a spouse or colleague that may be near during the conversation. Over the past year, new smartphones included front facing cameras. Today, most smartphones, D-SLR cameras, and even point-and-shoot cameras are capable of recording video. Most IM networks also now support video. This makes places like YouTube.com and Vimeo a part of my work related web sites.
I've seen more and more keynotes feature video communications. Not just at events like Enterprise Connect, but elsewhere--such as Dreamforce 11 (CRM?) where video was used in customer support. The Microsoft Lync Launch event brought Bill Gates to NY via interactive video (and, ironically, Andrew Miller, CEO of Polycom in person). More and more, I see the news channels doing interviews over webcams.
Meanwhile, on the enterprise front, video has entered the mainstream conversation--at least on internal calls. The majority of the UC clients today now support desktop video. Cisco and Avaya launched their own video enabled tablets. Several vendors, including Polycom, Radvision, and Siemens delivered video applications for popular tablets.
In the Innovation Showcase, a program spotlighting small companies that takes place at Enterprise Connect, last year we featured one company, Radish Systems, which pushes pictures from a call center or IVR to a smartphone. This year, there were four applications involving video related innovations (winners to be announced on March 1).
The reasons for dismissing video are disappearing. Network pipes are getting fatter and cheaper. The technology is becoming affordable, even pervasive. Attitudes are changing too. Video communications are less intrusive, and increasingly expected. The prices associated with video communications are rapidly dropping--and the technologies are getting easier to use and more interoperable.
Recently, Radvision announced its new room system, the XT-5000. This system is capable of 6 Mbps, supporting 1080p 60 fps video with dual channels--for about $10k. Over the past few years, Radvision quietly transitioned into an end-to-end video vendor. The XT-5000 is part of its Scopia product line which includes desktop endpoints, mobile clients, and telepresence solutions. The XT-5000 can optionally be configured as an MCU supporting up to 9 participants.
Radvision is slashing price/performance metrics while maintaining high-end specifications.The company is an early adopter of scalable video coding (SVC) which sends the picture in layers, minimizing the effects of packet loss. The XT-5000 also includes beam forming microphone technology for better sound (a good video call requires great audio conferencing).
Prior to the XT-5000, Radvision announced its Scopia Video Gateway was approved for video interoperability with Microsoft's Lync and OCS products. The gateway allows Lync and OCS clients to connect with standards-based video conferencing systems--not just Radvision's but most room based solutions. Radvision was recently rumored as a possible acquisition target of Avaya, but nothing has been announced.
Lifesize recently rolled out its new Connections service. LifeSize Connections effectively outsources the infrastructure elements of video conferencing and provides enterprise class infrastructure as a service. Users only need the LifeSize (hard or soft) video endpoints to realize a cloud-based video collaboration platform. The service includes nine-way video/voice/data/text bridging, NAT firewall traversal, and 720p 30 fps quality under a monthly program.
LifeSize Connections runs $30/mo for a desktop client and $100/mo for a meeting room. Lifesize justifies the higher price for the hardware solutions because it assumes those are shared meeting rooms. The plans include the ability to invite guests into a conference via a downloadable client. The Connections service includes IM and presence as well as the ability to share content. There are plenty of desktop-to-desktop video services, but few that include room systems.
If Desktop to Desktop is acceptable--there's always Skype and other consumer video services. They offer the benefit of low pricing--or free--but require all users to be members. Microsoft's new Office 365 service allows users to invite guests to conferences. All clients require local software or at least a browser plugin, but that may be changing this year with WebRTC (also see earlier post).
Two emerging companies are working to eliminate system incompatibilities. Vidtel offers a conversion and bridging service that provides a video number that can be dialed without worrying about compatibilities. Blue Jeans Networks offers a meet-me conferencing bridge, complete with scheduler, that supports multiple systems and types. Both vendors enable communications between a large number of vendors and technologies--including room systems and Skype.
The video ecosystem as a whole is growing rapidly. The selection and availability of cameras, webcams, and lighting accessories are growing---including vendors offering quick backgrounds. Several IP phones (hard and soft) support video including products from Polycom, Grandstream, Panasonic, and Counterpath. We are seeing an increase in video related M&A activity; just last month AVI-SPL acquired Iformata and ClearOne acquired VCON.
It is truly amazing how quickly video communications are becoming commonplace. A video call is very likely in your near term future, considering:
* The explosion of video enabled smartphones and tablets
* The fact that most notebook computers and desktop monitors now include webcams
* The ubiquity of broadband bandwidth
* The emergence of new any-to-any conferencing solutions.
* Several new televisions are equipped with cameras
* Nearly all of the enterprise UC vendors are making desktop video communications a core part of their solution.
Back at the 1964 World’s Fair, we were promised that video conferencing would change our lives. At the time, the world wasn't ready for it--either technologically or culturally. Now it is 2012 and it's time.
Dave Michels is a Contributing Editor and independent analyst at TalkingPointz.com