LifeSize Tech Day 2013

Video conferencing trumps audio conferencing! Why you ask? More than 80% of communication is non-verbal. So, why don’t more people use video conferencing over audio? There are a number reasons…read on.

HISTORY

While some may feel video conferencing is passé, I attended LifeSize’s TechDay in Austin, TX and now have a different perspective. Founded in 2006 and later acquired by Logitech, LifeSize is a producer of video conferencing equipment and services. Historically, video conferencing has been relegated to two extremes: 1) Personal 1:1 communications and 2) Fixed and proprietary meeting room systems. And until recently, the only option was the fixed and propriety meeting room systems. Today, 70% of all video conference calls are point-to-point (1:1 or room-to-room). The great thing about personal systems (ie: Skype, Google Hangouts or FaceTime) is the ability to use them across multiple devices in just about any location. While some provide group video conferencing, they are often not as high quality as fixed systems with high-end cameras and high-speed data connections.

INCREASING PRODUCTIVITY

As people look for ways to increase productivity, an increase in video conferencing could provide a useful tool. Picking up on the non-verbal communication helps drive clarity and highlight nuances not otherwise visible with audio conferencing. Plus, we know that team interaction provides a greater opportunity for collaboration and team building. Video conferencing, while not exactly the same as being in the same room as other people, is coming very close. Even mobile solutions are providing an interesting spin on the ability to video conference from just about anywhere. By bridging the gap between the fixed systems and the personal systems, users can start up a video conference as easily as they would with a phone call.

SPECTRUM OF SOLUTIONS

Video conferencing sits within a spectrum of communication solutions and alone is a $3b market with a number of different solutions. The different solutions within the spectrum of communications are:

- Audio Conferencing: Commonly used for group meetings, but lacks the video interaction. Audio is easy to access and only requires a telephone to use. All of the backend infrastructure is hosted.

- Web Conferencing: Web conferencing offers the ability to share screens and present documents in a one-to-many fashion. Some audio collaboration may exist, but only limited video or sharing bi-directional.

- Video Conferencing: Provides the ability to interact with both audio and video. It provides attendees to interact with each other visually. Video conferencing itself spans a wide range of needs from 1:1 personal video conferencing to high quality video required when connecting meeting rooms together.

- Telepresence: Similar to Video Conferencing, telepresence provide a very high quality way for multiple rooms to participate in meetings. Telepresence carries a hefty price tag and is best geared for connecting entire rooms of people together.

LIFESIZE PORTFOLIO

The LifeSize product portfolio covers a wide space from their smaller Passport Series that supports a single high-definition (HD) display to their flagship Icon series which supports Dual HD displays along with a myriad of other features. LifeSize even offers a video Softphone solution too. While many of the solutions require infrastructure on premises to support video calls, LifeSize is starting to offer a Hosted Infrastructure option.

Many of the existing solutions on the market today may use standards to communicate between end points, but they don’t integrate well with competing solutions. That becomes evident if you want to start a video conference session between companies that may have standardized on different solutions. LifeSize has taken a different path by leveraging standards to provide interoperability with other competing solutions.

Two factors govern the success of any given solution:

1)     Interoperability: How well does the solution interact with other devices, solutions and products? Not only is it standards based, but how accessible is the solution to use?

2)     Critical Mass: Unlike the fixed systems of years past, newer systems need a critical mass of users to function well. Think Metcalfe’s Law here: The utility of a network increases at the square of the number of nodes within it. The more users using the system, the more valuable it becomes.

WEBRTC

An alternative and simple option would be to launch a video conferencing session in a browser. Google and others are working on that via the WebRTC movement. Today, the browser of choice for WebRTC is Google Chrome. But hopefully that will span out to include other browsers like Internet Explorer, Firefox and Safari. Will WebRTC replace video conferencing? Probably not as it is not able to “ring” someone.

HOSTED SOLUTIONS

It was a bit disappointing that LifeSize’s efforts are not centered around their hosted offering. At least not yet. We know that the market is moving away from on-premises equipment and my point of view is that LifeSize should move full-steam in that direction too.

Another opportunity might be for service providers to host the solution for small medium business (SMB) clients. It could provide an interesting market to help augment LifeSize’s existing hosted offering. However, at this time, LifeSize explicitly forbids multi-tenant use of their solution.

IN SUMMARY

While video conferencing may have been around for some time, I believe we are just starting a to see its mass adoption. It is in the relatively early stages as behaviors change to accept starting a video call just like one would an audio call. The adoption of personal solutions will help change this behavior and in turn help open up video conferencing more broadly in the workplace.

Today, LifeSize offers a great portfolio of solutions with both good quality at an interesting price point. As their hosted solution develops further, it will be interesting to see LifeSize’s adoption in the marketplace.

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