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WBS Connect's Charter: Telepresence the Must Have, Killer App

October 8, 2008 | Chris Payatagool

By Bob Titsch

Scott_Charter.jpgScott Charter, managing partner of WBS Connect, wants to "smash preconceptions" about video conferencing, and he's off to a good start.

The company's new Virtual In Person high-definition video conferencing and telepresence product drew a lot of attention at the recent IT Expo in Los Angeles, Calif. The vendor's booth was mobbed for most of the show because its display was, in a word, amazing. In fact, it won "best booth" at the show.

The booth hosted two high-definition telepresence setups -a 52-inch large screen and 30-inch desktop workstation version. The big screen demonstration projected a live video conference over the company's IP network and "global gateway" for telepresence.

The picture quality of the big screen product impressed onlookers, especially when they were asked to shake hands with the person on the other end. Indeed, the 3-D effect of the video conference put observers in close "virtual" proximity to the person on the other side, making a handshake seem feasible when said person extended a hand. Observers conversed and made eye contact with the WBS Connect employee on the other end and walked away astonished in many instances.

WBS Connect is using video equipment from Vidyo, which employs the H.264-SVC (scalable video coding) codec, and its own carrier-class IP network to deliver a first-of-its-kind "global gateway" for telepresence, according to Charter. He says this global gateway will connect multiple video networks and give customers the ability to seamlessly perform business-to-business and network-to-network telepresence and video conferencing meetings, even when groups are on different private networks. WBS Connect also will bridge disparate high-definition video conferencing systems for customers, all from premier hardware manufacturers such as Polycom, Tandberg, Cisco and LifeSize, which are using different codecs.

"We think H.264-SVC is the superior codec," says Charter. "But we're bridging all codecs. We're the Switzerland for video conferencing."

Charter says his company's product employs motion resolution of 30 to 60 frames per second, which is greater than that of television. He adds that this makes non-verbal communications truly discernable. By way of Digital Video Enterprise's patented technology, the system's camera is hidden behind the image at eye level to preserve what Charter calls "true eye contact." And the system is designed so that participants are as near each other as they would be if they were in the same room, on either side of a conference table. (Traditionally, users have been separated by 9 to 12 feet, but WBS Connect's system halves that distance).

Thumbnail image for DVE_Huddle_70.jpg
Huddle 70

"You know the conferee is looking you in the eye, and not at your forehead," he says.

The large screen telepresence system costs approximately $100,000. The desktop version (called Silhouette), which includes a 30-inch LCD monitor, camera, speakerphone, headset, and a computer for running codec software, is priced at $10,000, and WBS is financing the product for about $275 a month. This version is not high-definition but it certainly looked that way to this observer.

Both the big screen and smaller version are compelling products. But can this technology, which isn't cheap, be monetized in an uncertain market and economy? "Yes," says Josh Noll, president of RevNet, a WBS partner.

"We see a tremendous opportunity to help businesses adopt telepresence to work smarter and transform the way they interact, build relationships and conduct business on a global scale," says Noll. "With an SLA-driven telepresence service offering, we are excited to work with WBS Connect as they continue to deliver 'what's next' in high-def applications over Ethernet."

Other industry suppliers are certain to follow with H.264.SVC. Cisco, for example, already has licensed the codec. But for the time being, WBS Connect's partner Vidyo is the only company using it, according to Charter. He's glad to have the head start. But he adds that he would be interested in selling other vendors' technology using the H.264-SVC codec.

"I see telepresence as the must have, killer application for the 21st century," says Charter. "With our IP network backbone, worldwide Internet operations and our networking expertise, we feel we're uniquely qualified to help our customers realize the full potential of telepresence and video conferencing, including enhanced productivity and stronger relationships that can only come from a free exchange of ideas and frequent face-to-face interactions."

WBS Connect is selling the product through wholesale, agent and direct sales channels.

[via IP Business News]

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