article

TIME MACHINES

Posted: 05/2002

TIME MACHINES
Advances in Desktop Technology Push Video Meetings Fast
Forward into Future

By Tara Seals

THE SPACE AGE ALWAYS WAS an unspecified era in the future, when executives would cruise around in the stratosphere. Space hotels would be destinations of choice. Also, robotic housekeepers, booster packs and video communications would be the norm.

A part of that tomorrow has become today, with increasing deployment of desktop videoconferencing. While bandwidth and adoption barriers exist, the market finally is growing and vendors foresee a time when everyone from the CEO to Grandma will have a Jetsons-like ability to communicate with a personal video device.

In contrast, the clunky, room-based systems of the early 1990s were plagued with hiccups and offered only a fuzzy approximation of the people on the other end. While room-based technology has been improved, the latest wave of video technology is a group of self-contained tools that sit on the desk and offer on-demand visual communication with a crisp picture and real-time audio/video synchronization.

Channel partners and resellers are time traveling too, finding desktop video to be a convenient lead-in to lucrative broadband, professional services and network services sales across multiple industries. It’s also a high-margin business, providing much-appreciated revenue in an era of dwindling profit centers.

End-user demand is driven by a need to cut costs and to increase efficiency. By cutting travel budgets and making meetings more effective and productive, videoconferencing achieves that in areas ranging from financial to manufacturing to education to simply linking multilocation organizations. “We have reached the technology, price, reliability and ease-of-use thresholds that make video conferencing suitable for widespread corporate deployment,” says Gadi Tamari, CEO at real-time voice/video/data communications provider Radvision Inc.

In fact, according to a February Cahners In-Stat/MDR report, worldwide desktop video system sales will continue with double-digit growth into 2006, when it will reach $773 million — up from about $312 million last year.

The value proposition is so compelling that telcos also may turn to such services to give themselves a glimpse of a more profitable future, creating further channel sales opportunities. “An aggressive up tick in the videoconferencing business could ultimately help pull the telecommunications sector out of its recent doldrums,” says Gerry Kaufhold, a principle analyst at
Cahners.

“When we consider that the U.S. market for long-distance telephone services was over $100 billion four years ago and is now near $80 billion, the Sprints, MCI WorldComs and AT&Ts of the world need videoconferencing services as a way to refloat their corporate boats,” he adds.

Achieving Lift-Off

As cool as videoconferencing is in concept, technological issues such as interoperability, a need for centralized management and packet loss in IP networks represent high hurdles to widespread adoption. Greater available bandwidth and managed services rescued the technology, but channel partners need to be aware of pitfalls to be successful and to sell add-on QoS services.

Channel partners first must decide on an IP or an ISDN-based solution. ISDN is more reliable, but per-minute charges (up to $6 a minute for an overseas video call) can be prohibitive. With IP, stabilization of video on the network increases fixed implementation costs, but return on investment can be quicker. The right choice depends on the organization’s usage needs and applications.

Partners also need to talk about architecture issues intelligently. A path to solving complexity issues is imperative for business adoption. For example, lack of ISDN-IP network interoperability and problems with network address translation (the process of one unit being able to find another through a tangle of networks, firewalls and different types of equipment), can cause dropped calls or slowed traffic. And in IP, encounters with legacy systems can strip away bits and bytes from video traffic, leading to latency, jitter and lost packets. All this makes real-time, business grade video (30 frames per second) impossible.

Videoconferencing solutions also tend to be best of breed, with endpoints, network elements and bandwidth services from different vendors that all need to work together. To reduce complexity, managed IP networks by providers like SAVVIS monitor everything that goes on behind the scenes and offer class-of-service traffic, including priority for video. SAVVIS has a channel program for resellers, integrators and agents to offer network QoS along with desktop endpoints.

Integrator International Video-Conferencing Inc. (IVCi) offers the SAVVIS-based IntelliNet product, a private switched ATM-based IP network for videoconferencing with QoS, for a fixed monthly fee.

Also, many vendors now offer network resource management suites that complement desktop video endpoints and offer sales opportunities to partners.

Polycom Inc.’s ViaVideo desktop solution, a self-contained desktop unit that plugs into a PC’s USB port, interfaces with management tools for QoS on an IP network and maneuvering traffic across various topologies and through firewalls with priorities for video packets.

Polycom’s Path Navigator controls least-cost routing and offers QoS within the system, and Polycom Office offers a web-based interface for centrally coordinating video calls. In March, the company released VoicePlus, which allows any type of endpoint or network to connect to a conference with audio, web or video functionality. The add-ons mean an end-to-end desktop solution.

“There was no real way to achieve mass deployment and centrally manage it,” says Ravel Pickhardt, senior product manager for ViaVideo. “This is a total solution, end-to-end, with all the high-end algorithms supported. [Partners] don’t have to come with other vendors’ products and worry about interoperability.”

VCON Inc.’s ViGO is another PC-based solution, but is plug-and-play for easy mobility. ViGO’s MeetingPoint software for IP-based (H.323) videoconferencing includes PacketAssist Architecture, which supports bandwidth management and
QoS.

Innomedia Inc.’s IP VideoPhone doesn’t offer built-in QoS options, but rather it requires a managed broadband network with QoS for best performance. It optimizes available bandwidth to deliver quality images and needs only 64kbps upstream and downstream compared with the 384kbps benchmark required for the other systems. Users can choose a sharper but slower image or a fuzzier image but faster frame rate. A network status bar in a corner of the screen shows fluctuations in network performance by changing colors: green for excellent, orange for good, blue for congested and red for heavily congested conditions.

Ground Control

Most desktop video vendors have channel programs; applications and markets are varied and offer many targets for an enterprising channel partner. Corporate training, distance learning, board meetings, financial and banking applications such as a virtual teller, and sales organizations are growing niches, according to Joel Sigmund, IVCi’s western regional sales director.

“The impact of a call over video is enormous compared to audio,” explains Sigmund. “With video you have someone’s attention all the time, they can’t be checking e-mail or so on; video affects how people do business. They make decisions faster, are more productive and it of course affects the travel budget.”

A key differentiator in the space is ease of use. VCON’s ViGO for instance can be used with Media Xchange Manager (MXM), which sets up an IP PBX for call forwarding, transfer and building of ad-hoc conferences. It also supports Interactive Multicast technology, interactive audio and video streaming in real time.

Norwegian giant Tandberg Inc.’s Tandberg 1000 is a portable product that allows on-the-fly conferencing from any location, enabling hot desk environments and travelers to benefit. “The huge difference is that we offer a phone appliance — as easy to use as a telephone, plug it in, dial one number and push a button and connect,” says Kristin Blix, marketing manager for
Tandberg.

Once a company decides it needs desktop video, the units themselves are far from the final frontier for channel partners and resellers.

“You can earn commissions on equipment leases, provide various circuits, offer a full suite of things,” says Vince Bradley, president, founder and CEO of master agency World Telecom Group. He adds that many video conferencing resellers and VARs partner with agents or have commissioned tiers beneath them for services.

“There’s a learning curve in selling this product as a partner,” says Sigmund. “Most agents are on the bandwidth side, selling networking and they partner with us for the rest. The key thing for an agent is that [it] opens a different door inside the enterprise. It’s not telecom or MIS. If you’re calling the CEO about desktop video, it’s kind of stealth marketing for bandwidth.”

The more savvy the partner, the greater the opportunities. Polycom’s channel partners are mainly IP-centric resellers and integrators, which can address specialized markets and solve technical issues with their own expertise. Similarly, Tandberg authorized VAR program contains partners that can sell a total solution with service, installation and training.

“These are value-added revenue streams for partners,” says Polycom’s Pickhardt. “The don’t just come to the table with endpoints, they come with every single piece of a network solution to support these video networks.”

Tandberg’s Blix says the certification requirements are important because desktop paves the way for other products down the line. “The desktop market is heightening the awareness of what video can do,” she says. “Other needs drive other products.”

One such product could be streaming media. “We believe video conferencing will be the killer application that drives the entire continuum of streaming media into the mainstream for corporate networks,” says
Kaufhold.

For instance, Genesys Conferencing Inc. partners and agents will be able to sell an integrated conferencing service with the launch of version 2.0 of the Genesys Meeting Center platform in mid-May. A monthly subscription-based service will offer single log-in access to audio and web conferencing, data collaboration and support for desktop video appliances and webcams. Anyone with desktop video capability can show up in the Genesys web interface as a talking head, in conjunction with slides, whiteboarding or other tools.

“This is the future,” says Kailash Ambwani, chief strategy officer for Genesys. “Room-based systems will always be there, but this will be a much more explosive technology — all the parts are there for this to succeed.”

 

Desktop Video Product Comparison
Product      Price Point
PC-Based?
Ease of Deployment Ease of Use  Quality Key Features

PolyCom ViaVideo

Yes

$599 GUI interface for set-up on PCs and laptops Centralized web-based call management Total QoS management available End-to-end solution, video mail capable, Microsoft NetMeeting data collaboration capabilities, truly integrated with audio and video encoding onboard its chip

VCON ViGO

Yes

ViGO Standard – $699

ViGO Professional – $1,199

ViGO Executive – $1,995

Hot-swappable between PCs and laptops Works just like a phone PacketAssist Architecture for bandwidth management and QoS Interfaces with MXM for IP PBX capability, video mail capable, Microsoft NetMeeting data collaboration capabilities, supports Interactive Multicasting
 

Tandberg 1000

No

$5,500 Hot-pluggable to ISDN and IP networks Works just like a phone Management suite available Wireless LAN and Macintosh-compatible, embedded encryption
 

Innomedia IP Video

Phone

No $1,500 Hot-pluggable to IP networks Works just like a phone Network monitoring capability A true videophone, can be used with another camera or a VCR 

Source: Author

 

Links
Cahners In-Stat/MDR www.instat.com

Genesys Conferencing Inc. www.genesys.com

Innomedia Inc. www.innomedia.com

Integrator International Video-Conferencing Inc. www.ivci.com

Radvision Inc. www.radvision.com

SAVVIS www.savvis.net

Tandberg Inc. www.tandbergusa.com

VCON Inc. www.vcon.com

World Telecom Group www.wtgcom.com

 


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