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Seeing is Believing: PHONE+ Discusses the Video-over IP Conferencing Market With The Conference Group

Move over voice-over-IP. There’s a new “V” in town. Video-over-IP conferencing solutions are debuting to hungry consumers looking for ways to keep dispersed workforces connected and save money in the process. PHONE+ sat down with Greg Plum, channel manager at The Conference Group, to get the scoop on the company’s recently debuted video-over-IP conferencing offering, ReadyShow Video, and find out what differentiates the offering in the market.

PHONE+: Please tell me about the Conference Group’s newest video-over-IP offering.

Greg: The Conference Group introduced ReadyShow Video at the Spring 2008 Channel Partners Conference and Expo in Las Vegas in March. This service provides the customer the ability to conduct multipoint video conferences and desktop sharing with nothing more than a webcam and a browser. ReadyShow Video utilizes Flash technology, is 100 percent browser-based without the need for downloads, and works across multiple operating systems. As many as 16 videos can be shared simultaneously within a single conference. In addition, this service includes an integrated VoIP option, at no additional cost. Of course, we are more than happy to provide a toll-free bridge number in conjunction with the video conference.

PHONE+: How does this fit into the Conference Group’s product portfolio?

Greg: It is difficult to have a conversation about conferencing these days without video being brought up. ReadyShow Video is our first foray into flat-rate services. It is a little early to know for sure, but we speculate this service will become one of our flagship offerings due to the quality of the platform and the aggressive price structure.

PHONE+: What is the target market for this solution?

Greg: The audience for this service is very much that of other conferencing services … small and medium businesses looking to reduce travel, manage expenses, and maintain productive working relationships with colleagues and sales prospects alike. Remember the telephone company commercials decades ago touting their service as “the next best thing to being there”? The new family of Video over IP services that are hitting the streets shows just how far we have come in this industry in as little as the last 10 years. This truly is the next best thing to being there.

PHONE+: How much does the solution cost and what equipment does a company need to implement it?

Greg: The suggested retail price for ReadyShow Video is $20 per seat, with a five-seat purchase minimum. There are no other setup fees or special equipment to buy, unless of course, you are one of the hold-outs who has yet to get your hands on a webcam. Prices on webcams range from $10 on up to $100 or more, offering varying levels of quality. For customers wanting to really take advantage of the VoIP feature as well, we recommend a headset with microphone.

PHONE+: Has the solution been successful since its debut?

Greg: Demand is great, but we have been focusing on fine-tuning the interface and packaging for the channel. I expect that this service will be a lead-in service for many of our sales partners calling on prospects and current clients. It is actually fun to use and is quite addictive. Once you start using ReadyShow Video, it is easy to incorporate it into your everyday routine.

PHONE+: What are the reasons that companies might want to purchase ReadyShow Video?

Greg: Video-over-IP provides the ability for a geographically dispersed audience to sit in a virtual meeting room and look their fellow attendees in the eyes without leaving their own desk. Think of what that can do to enhance productivity and reduce expense. Why fly 12 – 15 hours across the globe for a meeting that may take a few hours? The soft and hard savings are tremendous. Since ReadyShow Video is offered on a flat-rate basis, it is easy to forecast costs, regardless of how much the service is used.

PHONE+: Are you getting any pushback from customers? If so, what seems to be causing that?

Greg: People are just now becoming educated with regard to the options available to them. When they can video chat for free over the Internet, why would they actually pay for a service, such as ours? For the same reason they turn to conferencing service providers to conduct their everyday conference calls … quality of service. The vast majority of the free services available today do not support multipoint video and are not robust enough to allow attendees to share desktop applications in real time.

PHONE+: Are you selling this offering through the indirect channel?

Greg: Absolutely. We are excited to bring this service to the agent community with the opportunity to make margins that have not been seen in quite some time in this space. Wholesale prices for the service start at $10 per seat per month, with a suggested retail price of $20 per seat and a five-seat purchase minimum. As with all of our services, we allow our agents to set their customers’ rates at the client level, providing the flexibility to offer a price appropriate to each specific opportunity.

PHONE+: Who are your competitors in this space and how are you differentiating your offering?

Greg: As I mentioned, it is difficult to discuss conferencing today without the conversation turning to video. As a result, various options have been introduced in recent months, but since we are in the embryonic stages of this service, it is difficult to say who will emerge with comparable technologies. Our differentiator will be the fact that we are bringing the best of breed direct to the agent channel. At this point, no other conferencing service provider can say that.

PHONE+: Where do you see video-over-IP conferencing fitting into the overall conferencing market and what do you see as the future of this technology?

Greg: I see this tool being integrated into the fabric of everyday business. It will take no more thought to “pop” into a video conference than it does today to “jump” on a conference call. This is just one more tool that facilitates collaboration. Video-over-IP has the potential to transition from novelty to necessity in months, rather than years.

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