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AT&T & Polycom Partner on Telepresence and Videoconferencing - What does it mean for Customers and Cisco?

January 16, 2013 | David S. Maldow, Esq.

ATT.jpg We appear to be at a turning point in the history of visual collaboration. Internal use of business videoconferencing is now becoming commonplace, and the challenges preventing full ubiquitous video in business to business are being attacked with a renewed energy. One of the success stories on the B2B front has been the AT&T business exchange which includes over 130 organizations globally. AT&T appears to be building on this with a new working agreement with Polycom. The new agreement includes a few elements, such as AT&T offering service bundles including Polycom products, the use of Polycom infrastructure at AT&T, and the use of AT&T MPLS services by Polycom. In light of this, we wondered exactly what it all means for AT&T customers with Polycom and/or Cisco based videoconferencing environments. We spoke with Alan Benway, (Executive Director - Enterprise Video Services at AT&T) for the inside scoop.


Short Term - Fully Managed Bundles: Polycom video conferencing and telepresence systems (OTX and HDX to start, no word yet on the RPX) are now available as part of an AT&T "rental with support" bundle. This is an excellent move considering the current state of the industry. Traditional hardware videoconferencing and telepresence systems, when properly managed, provide incredible benefits and ROI. However, due to the general negative industry buzz about big hardware, some users may be hesitant to drop a capital spend on new equipment. The new AT&T package is a win / win / win for end users. They get the Polycom gear, the AT&T support required to assure adoption and ROI on these systems, and they can avoid a major hardware purchase.

Long Term - Polycom Infrastructure: AT&T's currently supports videoconferencing environments by using Cisco infrastructure. This does not, by any means, limit AT&T to supporting Cisco environments. The AT&T business exchange and other AT&T video services currently support Cisco, Polycom, and other environments. The only issue is that some customers with Polycom environments might appreciate it if their service provider used Polycom infrastructure. When AT&T's new Polycom infrastructure is in place (estimated sometime in H2 2013), customers will have that option.

In other words, from the customer point of view, we aren't really talking about more features or capabilities. However, there is certainly value in being able to choose Polycom infrastructure to support your Polycom environment.

The obvious question is whether AT&T is shifting from Cisco to Polycom. Andrew Davis of Wainhouse Research recently predicted that Cisco will be out of the videoconferencing hardware industry within a year. As expected, Cisco reps are politely disagreeing, but it is certainly something to consider. For a little background, much of Cisco's video expertise comes from the rock star crew that came with their purchase of the Norway based Tandberg in 2009. The Tandberg team (including CEO Fredrik Halvorsen, President Geir Olsen, and CTO Hakon Dahle) has been leaving Cisco at such a pace that it is become the source of some light hearted industry humor with David Danto predicting the entire country of Norway resign from Cisco in 2013. We asked Alan flat out if this is a shift, and he assured us that AT&T is still 100% committed to their current Cisco based support. The Polycom option is just that, an additional option, not a replacement. This makes sense, as AT&T needs to be positioned to support their video customers regardless of what happens in the continuing battle between Polycom and Cisco.

I asked Alan about a number of other Polycom elements, such as the upcoming CloudAXIS solution, and the basic takeaway is that while these elements aren't within the scope of the current announcement, this is a strong partnership with a good roadmap. The bottom line from AT&T's perspective, according to Alan, is that the demand for videoconferencing is undeniable. Customers want video and they need help implementing it effectively to maximize adoption and return. As far as infrastructure is concerned, there may be a question as to the best way to provide the infrastructure, and AT&T wants to be prepared in all cases.

About the Author
David_Maldow, Esq.David Maldow, Esq. is a visual collaboration technologist and analyst with the Human Productivity Lab and an associate editor at Telepresence Options. David has extensive expertise in testing, evaluating, and explaining telepresence and other visual collaboration / rich media solutions. David is focused on providing third-party independent analysis and opinion of these technologies and helping end users better secure their telepresence, videoconferencing, and visual collaboration environments. You can follow David on Twitter and Google+.

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