BT To Trial Advanced Dolby Audio Conferencing Technology
It's about time we had a better and more productive user experience. Now we'll see how users respond, and what they'll be willing to pay for the privilege.
BT Conferencing, a division of UK-based BT Group, announced it will be trialing a new audio conferencing technology from Dolby Laboratories Inc. I had written about the Dolby conferencing solution earlier this year after I heard a demo at IBM's Lotusphere, and it is indeed impressive. The highly scalable, IP-based conferencing technology automatically cancels background noise, equalizes the volume on all drops, and creates what Dolby calls a "spatial audio scene" where each speaker's voice seems to be coming from a particular direction.
The company claims it can support up to 300 bidirectional participants per meeting and up to 2,000 concurrent participants per server, so it should provide the scale needed for a service provider environment.
One drawback with the original demo system I had seen was the need to wear a headset to experience the spatial sound effect. Dolby now says that users can have much the same experience using their PC's speakers and microphone. In the meantime, the Dolby Voice demo on the website still recommends a headset. Users without access to a PC can get access on regular dial-in lines, and while the noise cancellation and automatic level adjustment will work, they obviously won't get the spatial sound effect.
Needless to say, there is a lot of hype surrounding video conferencing, but most of us spend a lot more time on the old fashioned audio variety. Cisco has clearly been fanning the flames with its Visual Networking Index forecast for exponential growth in video traffic. Personally if I had to choose between augmenting an audio conference with either a web collaboration tool or video, I'd take web collaboration 99 times out of 100. Of course, with a video conference, audio is still a very important element.
Judging by the quality of that Dolby Voice demo, the addition of some marketing talent from BT can only be a plus for Dolby. On paper the value proposition for a vastly superior audio conferencing solution is compelling. Keeping your attention focused throughout an audio conference is challenging to begin with, and if the sound quality is bad, the experience becomes even more draining. With collaborative workgroups becoming the norm in both large and small businesses, a clearly superior conferencing vehicle should be a sure winner.
However, there is the question of cost, and the announcement makes no reference to that aspect. If they want to be aggressive, BT Conferencing might consider pricing the Dolby offering equivalent to their existing "regular quality" MeetMe conferencing service and look to steal customers from its competitors. However, given the noticeable quality improvement (plus the fact that they've got to be paying something to Dolby), my guess is that this will be a premium-priced offering.
So in the end, the success of this venture will be up to the customers. At an equal price point, I don't see how the BT-Dolby combination could lose. However, if BT is pricing this as a premium offering, the customers will decide if the experience is worth the "premium". The quality experience with a headset is truly remarkable, and in a "cubicle environment" headsets will clearly be part of the equation. However, many more people are working from home and typically use a speakerphone so they can keep their hands free. If the quality improvement isn't as noticeable using the PC's speakers, the value proposition for those teleworkers starts to drop.
With the prevalence of audio conferencing, it's about time we had something that can really deliver a better and more productive user experience. Now we'll have to see if users recognize the difference, how they respond to the possibility of a headset conference, and what they'll be willing to pay for the privilege.