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LifeSize Shapes Up for Managed Video Services
Service providers looking to add to their portfolios of managed services can now more easily enter the videoconferencing and telepresence sector by using a platform that overcomes two of the main barriers to widespread adoption -- the interconnection of multiple videoconferencing providers and the traversal of enterprise firewalls.
So says Michael Helmbrecht, vice president of product marketing for LifeSize Communications Inc. , who sees a significant role for service providers in stimulating the market for high-quality videoconferencing and making it more easily accessible to, and cost-effective for, enterprise users.
LifeSize is aiming to play a pivotal role in fueling market growth with its Video Center, a new system that enables HD video to be streamed, recorded, and published online, either in real time or on-demand. Helmbrecht says the system is tailor-made for tasks like distance learning and corporate training.
Since December, LifeSize has been the videoconferencing arm of Logitech Ltd. and, as such, is even looking at connecting home media centers with more readily available video, although that may be a longer-term goal that draws on Logitech's current status as a market leader in consumer areas such as Webcams and media accessories. (See Logitech to Get LifeSize)
"As we build out the video business, the potential is there to be the company that can extend high-quality video into the home, the office, the classroom, and the mobile device," Helmbrecht says. "We want to be able to give the customer the flexibility and reach to do that."
Near-term, LifeSize continues to advocate HD videoconferencing services that can connect, not only high-end telepresence facilities, but also videoconferencing rooms, PCs, and even mobile devices (via audio or lower-end video), primarily for business purposes.
Service providers have a substantial role in that market, Helmbrecht notes, because there are still significant hurdles to making videoconferencing easy to use for companies that want to routinely communicate with employees, partners, customers, suppliers, patients, and students.
While a lot of the recent service provider focus in managed services has been on telepresence, there is a much broader market, he feels.
"Telepresence is an important and growing part of the market, but it's just one element of the video communications solution. It's the most expensive and the most visible. But the real key to growing video is to span the market in an interoperable way, which can link the telepresence studio, the conferencing room, the PC, and the mobile device in a way that capitalizes on bandwidth utilization, ease of use, and price performance. That is where we think we stand out."
LifeSize videoconferencing products are part of the managed service offering of service providers including BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA) and Glowpoint Inc. (OTC BB: GLOW), Helmbrecht says, and the company is hoping to expand that roster.
"We are pursuing managed services and hosted services more aggressively," he says. That strategy involves offering a range of services, including leased or purchased equipment, and a variety of channels.
One of the challenges for videoconferencing players like LifeSize has been withstanding the marketing onslaught of Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), which launched its TelePresence™ initiative in late 2006 and has been beating the drum for the high-end immersive video experience ever since, signing multiple service providers as TelePresence providers. And following its recent acquisition of Tandberg, Cisco is now seen as a bigger player in the general video market. (See Cisco Completes Tandberg Offer.)
Helmbrecht credits Cisco with bringing much greater visibility to high-end videoconferencing, even though the networking giant has been slower to embrace the industry standards that have enabled companies such as LifeSize, Polycom Inc. (Nasdaq: PLCM), Tandberg ASA (OSE: TAA), Teliris Ltd. , and others to interconnect their video systems.
"We certainly want to make sure everything we do is extensible to as many sites as possible, to make sure [users] can call partners, customers, other companies, no matter what vendor's equipment they are using. Today it can happen, but there are some limitations. We don't have ubiquitous firewall traversal, for instance, and there are technical issues around price points and ease of use."
That's where Helmbrecht believes service providers can deliver value in managed video services, in providing such things as federated directory services that enable businesses to treat videoconferencing calls as an extension of their VoIP services, using the session border controllers deployed today for VoIP to handle the security and bandwidth allocation issues.
LifeSize works independently with PBX manufacturers to do this today on a vendor-by-vendor basis, but providing those capabilities as a managed service would make them more compelling to a broader swath of corporate users, Helmbrecht believes.
Among the possibilities for the new LifeSize VideoCenter are distance-learning applications that enable school districts to easily link multiple classrooms to a single source of instruction, as well as include other visual elements in the video stream at the touch of a button. Such presentations can be recorded for on-demand playback.
LifeSize has a number of customers already in the pipeline for the new product and will be announcing those in the coming weeks, says Helmbrecht.
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