A Closer Look at Siemens' Video Play
In his Enterprise Connect keynote, SEN exec Chris Hummel produced a video camera from his jacket pocket. But where does it really come from, and what's the strategy for it?
Enterprise Connect keynoters showcased new products and services in the works at their respective companies. Microsoft's Kirk Koenigsbauer teased the audience about Lync-Skype integration without actually providing anything in the way of details about it. Brett Shockley, while laying out a framework for cloud solutions, slipped in the fact that the Avaya is about to launch a hosted UC service for small businesses. OJ Winge from Cisco unveiled a new, improved immersive TelePresence system to sit alongside (and hopefully one day replace, but the company is not actually committing to this) its existing T3 and CTS 3000 systems. And Alistair Rennie tried to get Enterprise Connect attendees still sorting out the implications of unified communications onboard with IBM's new social business message.
But Microsoft talking up Lync, IBM marketing social, and Cisco praising the virtues of telepresence...these aren't exactly eyebrow raisers. It was the Siemens Enterprise keynote that threw something of a zinger. Personally, I was expecting some news about the long-awaited "global relaunch that will feature the introduction of a new name, logo, and positioning." Instead, in his keynote, Siemens Enterprise President-North America/CMO Chris Hummel announced a video camera.
Granted, cameras are a necessary component of any video conferencing solution. You need cameras on laptops, cameras in conference rooms, cameras on tablets and smart phones, cameras in telepresence studios. But cameras are commodity items, and UC solutions developers like Siemens Enterprise usually leave it up to partners like Polycom, LifeSize, Logitech, and others to provide them.
CMO Chris Hummel with Siemens Enterprise's as-yet unnamed video end point
Hummel described the device that he pulled from his pocket as having an HDMI connection to either a TV or a PC monitor. It will be SIP-enabled, provide plug and play connectivity, connect to Ethernet and wireless networks, encrypt calls from end to end, and support both high definition and audio (the latter via built-in 16kHz speakers).
After the keynote, I went to the Siemens Enterprise booth and met with David Moss, who had a couple of the devices on display and elaborated on some of Hummel's comments. Moss noted that the video end point will deliver 720p video at 30 frames per second (there's the high-def quality Hummel mentioned), requiring 2 Mbps of network bandwidth or less to do so. It will auto-register to an OpenScape Voice server (there's the plug-n-play), use the OpenScape SBC for security, leverage the soft MCU in OpenScape Video for multipoint conferences (otherwise conferences are point to point), require a VDI adapter to connect to a PC's monitor, and will be controllable from an OpenStage phone, a UC GUI, or a remote control device. So it sounds like a fairly sizable investment in Siemens Enterprise products will be required. That said, Moss explained that it will be able to connect with Cisco, Polycom, and LifeSize video end points, as well as video clients from Google and Skype. This will help it fit into businesses with existing investments in video conferencing technology.
One of the things that Moss really wanted to impress on me was that the new camera was not for "video conferencing," but rather for "video-enabled UC." I didn't ask for a lot of detail around how he is spitting those particular hairs, but at least part of his point seemed to be that he expects the new camera to be used less in traditional conference-room type scenarios and more in verticals like healthcare and hospitality. As examples, he mentioned telemedicine, where the device would sit on home-bound patients' TVs; and virtual concierges, where a monitor would let hotel guests speak with staff located off site.
This sounds a lot like the business applications that Cisco partners were beginning to lay out for umi, Cisco's now-defunct consumer telepresence device. I suppose this isn't surprising since Siemens Enterprise's new video end point also seems like it might have its origins in the consumer market. The gadget on display at Enterprise Connect looked identical to Biscotti, Inc.'s, $199 HD video conferencing device named after the dunkable treat it's shaped like. (More on Biscotti here and here.). I asked Siemens where the new product comes from, but the company says it isn’t ready to comment on its heritage much less confirm if it is, in fact, OEMed from the Biscotti device.
If you check those links in the previous paragraph, don't read the Biscotti reviews too closely, since Siemens Enterprise is in the process of modifying the hardware (assuming we're dealing with the same device). Or maybe it's Biscotti that's developing new hardware. Again, I'm still unclear on the exact relationship, if there is any, between the Biscotti and Siemens gadgets. Though the display unit at Siemens' Enterprise Connect booth seemed to be identical to the Biscotti doodad (made for TVs, built-in speaker, Wifi only, Google compatible, 720p video, etc.), Moss said his company will go to market with a version that has an Ethernet port and other modifications that the display unit didn't have.
Siemens Enterprise will also, of course, modify the target market. The company won't be going after consumers, which turned out to be such a losing proposition for Cisco...and even Logitech and Google are struggling to build up much consumer interest in their Revue-Google TV combo. But Siemens Enterprise will have to make this applicable to more than just the telemedicine and remote concierge applications that Moss mentioned to me. These are vertical-specific niches that developers of video conferencing systems have been going after for years and years. There's no reason that Siemens Enterprise can't also target them with more of an end-to-end video conferencing solution than it currently possesses. But for now I'm going to need more proof points that the Siemens Enterprise camera is the "future of video conferencing" that the company claims it to be.
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