Mitel Introduces a "Collaboration Point" Device
The new Mitel UC360 is in a new category--the question is if there's a need.
When a new category of product or service is introduced, it’s either a mark of genius or foolishness. The outcome depends on more than the product itself--there's also the firm's ability to market and educate about the need for the device, as there can be no inherent demand for a product that didn't previously exist. Last week Mitel introduced the UC360 Collaboration Point--a new type of endpoint designed for small-group collaboration.
Recent endpoint innovations have largely been restricted to incremental improvements over existing product offerings. As a totally new category, the only thing we've seen recently is new tablet devices, but they are effectively business-optimized implementations of a consumer concept. We've seen some new video endpoint concepts which are primarily form factor innovations rather than addressing a new functional area. In contrast, the new Mitel UC360 is in a new category--the question is if there's a need.
Mitel's UC360 lies somewhere between a conference saucer and a "projector" optimized for a small yet distributed group. Mitel believes a gap exists in the available collaboration solutions--a gap between individual desktop tools and large group conferencing and telepresence solutions.
Desktop tools center around a personal application that shares video and/or desktop content with remote participants; and conferencing tools involve specially equipped conference rooms optimized for larger distributed groups. Mitel is thinking about the next-generation office accessory which today is commonly a speaker saucer on a side table.
The UC360 combines a high-end speaker saucer with a four-port video bridge. It has a 7" touch screen interface instead of a keypad, a 1 GHz processor and utilizes an embedded version of Android. It's a pure SIP device, so it will work with Mitel MCD as well as other SIP call managers that support H.264 video. The device does not have a video camera or any Mitel proprietary protocols, though does integrate with Active Directory.
The UC360, expected this August, will be available with and without the built-in video bridge. Without the video bridge (MSRP $1,395), it is effectively a speaker saucer using 16 noise cancelling microphones and Mitel's "beam forming array" technology that now supports HD audio up to 22 KHz. With the addition of the video bridge (MSRP $1,995), the device has the ability to send live 720p video to a total of three participants.
The ideal use scenario involves a small group that wishes to collaborate with up to three remote participants. Ideally, the in-office group also has an HD monitor which connects to the UC360 via HDMI--now all local and remote participants can see the same content. Remote users only need an H.264 video-capable client from Mitel or a third party such as CounterPath. SIP video clients can be found for most operating systems, including tablets and smartphones.
The tricky part is getting the video into the device since it has no video-in port. There are three methods: download the content, connect to a PC using RDP, or use an IP camera. To download the content, the UC360 can access a Google Drive (Gmail or Google Apps account), Dropbox, or files can be loaded via a USB thumb drive. The UC360 can view files in Google Apps or MS Office formats using built-in viewing software. Or, the UC360 can send the active screen from a desktop or notebook computer using RDP, which requires pairing the UC360 with a PC over the network.
While sharing content to a small group of users is not particularly revolutionary, there's a few reasons why this device stands out as a bold move for Mitel. First and foremost is that it's the first Mitel endpoint that does not utilize MiNet, Mitel's proprietary endpoint protocol. That signals a stronger commitment to SIP for its own customers and a likely intent to sell into accounts utilizing other SIP-based call managers.
The UC360 also performs the switching or more accurately the bridging functionality at the endpoint. To the call manager it's just a SIP endpoint. Since Mitel already supported H.264 video calls on MCD, there are no server-side software updates necessary to support the new endpoint. This move to the edge is noteworthy for a company that has historically performed all bridging and switching at server-based solutions.
Lastly, it should be noted that this is an endpoint, not a service. There are no recurring charges associated with the device or its usage. Additionally, its design promotes shared use like a speaker saucer in conference rooms. Most alternative collaborative solutions are associated with specific user accounts not meant for open shared use.
The product will be distributed exclusively through the Mitel dealer network. The device will likely penetrate Mitel-loyal accounts in 2012. Perhaps in 2013, Mitel will open this product to broader distribution at a lower price. That and adding a video-in could effectively position it as a logical upgrade to audio-only conference saucers.
The UC360 is unlike any other device, it’s effectively a personal video bridge. The nice thing about it is it can be used independently or in conjunction with a video collaboration infrastructure or service such as Vidtel or Blue Jeans. As a SIP H.264 compliant device, it should integrate with most enterprise class video solutions, and has begun formal interop testing with Vidyo and Polycom.