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Polycom Puts Conferencing on the Desktop

New products are designed to bring business-quality tools to individual users

by Jack McCarthy

Conferencing and collaboration equipment provider Polycom this week announced a series of offerings designed to bring business-quality conferencing features to personal desktops. The products follow up on a collaborative agreement struck with Microsoft earlier this year to develop rich media services.

The new products include WebOffice 7.0 desktop portal; PVX video conferencing software; SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) support on Polycom's MGC (Multipoint Gateway Controller) platform; and ReadiManager LX100 integrated management and scheduling appliance for video conferencing.

"We are seeing two major trends around rich media collaboration. There is integration between the different collaboration elements into a single user experience, such as using Windows Messenger as a way to launch voice, video, and Web conferencing," says Mark Roberts, vice president of product development for Polycom. "The other area is around enhanced desktop communications with new applications like Polycom PVX, which delivers high-end conferencing and collaboration functionality directly from a PC."

Get Connected

Polycom's WebOffice 7.0 desktop portal allows users to incorporate desktop conferencing into an enterprise conferencing portal by initiating on-demand or reserved conference and collaboration sessions involving instant messaging, voice, video, and data in any combination.

WebOffice 7.0 has a point-and-click user interface and supports buddy lists, instant messaging, application sharing, chat, and whiteboard collaboration. The WebOffice conferencing portal can be configured to integrate Microsoft Windows Messenger client, in conjunction with Microsoft Office Live Communications Server 2003. The portal allows users to show device presence for Polycom's high-quality audio and video conferencing products and to instantly launch calls.

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Polycom PVX video conferencing software application extends high-quality conferencing capabilities to users' desktops and to Web cameras. It delivers high audio, video, and graphic quality, and enables desktop users to call standards-based video conferencing systems in offices or conference rooms with remote applications. It also supports telephony features such as call forwarding and call transfer, allowing users to forward incoming calls to their desktop systems or to other devices such as cell phones.

Rich Media

The new version of Polycom's MGC (Multipoint Gateway Controller) unified conferencing platform allows enterprises to deploy rich media applications over any conferencing network type. Polycom announced SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) support on the MGC platform, allowing interoperability of Polycom conferencing and collaboration systems with Microsoft environments.

Collaboration between Polycom MGC and Microsoft Office Live Communications Server offers customers an integrated SIP-based infrastructure for rich media collaboration with Polycom voice, video, and Web features and applications and Windows Messenger portals.

Also introduced was a new management and scheduling appliance, ReadiManager LX100, aimed at improving rich media collaborative communications. The appliance connects directly to a network to deliver simplified device management and voice and video conferencing scheduling through Microsoft Outlook, Lotus Notes, or a Web-based scheduling wizard.

In addition, Polycom announced upgrades to its suite of management and scheduling applications. Polycom Conference Suite now offers an integrated Lotus Notes interface, in addition to the existing Microsoft Outlook interface, and an automated Web scheduling wizard. The Polycom Global Management System offers integration with Avaya's NMS Management System and support for the new Polycom PVX desktop video conferencing software application. Polycom PathNavigator, an advanced video gatekeeper, improves video conferencing by extending firewall support and in-depth diagnostic information on latency and packet loss data.

For additional information regarding IVCi products and services, or to speak to a representative, please contact IVCi at 800-224-7083, or click here to have an IVCi Representative contact you.


The Collaboration Revolution

By Harold German

Remember those bulky, expensive video conferencing systems you would see in well-equipped conference rooms not too long ago? You know, the ones the office manager never allowed you to touch? Every now and then, you were invited to sit in on a "video meeting" and you would curiously await the 'pixely' face on the screen. By all accounts, the one-time fuzzy, unreliable and inaccessible technology known as collaborative technologies are making a more pronounced and permanent impression on organizations of all sizes.

The TCI Group (http://www.tcioptics.com), a New York City-based supplier of custom optical components, is a small company that recently joined the collaboration bandwagon. They were in search of a collaboration solution in order to reduce travel to their manufacturing plant in the Czech Republic. When they contracted IVCi, (http://www.ivci.com), an established conferencing integrator, for the implementation of a modest video conferencing system, within two weeks the New York group was having face-to-face meetings with the Czech-based team. The installation was a complete success and TCI recovered their investment in the system within a few months of usage. President G. Rausnitz was so pleased with the installation that he purchased a video conferencing system for his own Long Island, NY home so that he could participate in the meetings without having to drive into his office at 2 A.M. (8 A.M. Czech time). The company has seen a significant increase in usage and a substantial reduction in travel to the European office, and as they grow, they expect this increase in usage to continue.

The appeal of collaborative capability is not new. Collaboration technologies like web and video conferencing have been around for some time, the latter for more than a decade. The fact is that face-to-face meetings are vital to the success of all business relationships and work-related projects. However, collaborating in today's fast-paced, ever-connected world demands that we be at all places at once. The only way to maintain this level of communication without ringing up hundreds of thousands of dollars in travel costs and losing hundreds of valuable hours in productivity every year is by utilizing incorporating conferencing technologies into the mix.

Video conferencing, for its part, has redefined the 'Face-to-Face' meeting. Over the course of three years, Wainhouse Research (http://www.wainhouse.com), an independent market research firm covering the rich media conferencing and communications fields, conducted a detailed study into the incorporation of collaborative technologies into the work environment. The data reveals that people are increasing their reliance on these technologies and this demand is coming from various industries, including legal, government, education, and manufacturing, among others.

There are several trends that have spurred the recent growth in conferencing:

More Reliable

Most companies using video conferencing conduct their meetings over ISDN lines (Integrated Services Digital Network). Although it has always been the most affordable medium for video communication, ISDN is plagued by performance, reliability and image quality issues. For years, the typical conferencing user has had to deal with the dreaded 'dropped call.' Imagine being in the middle of an important board meeting with senior-level, international attendees and the call abruptly ends due to a service interruption. For this reason, large corporations accepted the initially higher costs of IP Networks (Internet Protocol), and enjoyed relatively uninterrupted service.

For the last few years, however, there has been a significant migration to these IP networks, a medium that is much more robust and has recently become more affordable. Used almost exclusively by larger organizations to-date, video over IP is rapidly gaining adoption among mid and small-sized companies. The image quality of the video calls is superior, the point-of-entry is significantly lower and the call connections are more reliable. Some service providers even guarantee their network's uptime. IVCi, for instance, touts a 99.99% guaranteed network uptime behind flagship service IntelliNet, which is used by some of the nation's largest companies.

Industry-Standard Increased

Video call quality is constantly improving, with this trend continuing due to H.264, a newly ratified video compression standard by the Switzerland-based International Telecommunication Union. H.264 aims to cut the necessary bandwidth for sending video during a videoconference in half. This translates into improved call clarity/definition and an increase in simultaneous call capacity. It also means that there is a substantial reduction in the bandwidth needed to hold video conferences. This year a call placed over a 256k IP connection (substandard economy class) looks as good as if was placed on a 384k IP connection (quality business class) last year. This means that companies of all sizes can now enjoy the same quality only larger corporations had access to. Due to the fact that less bandwidth is needed to conduct better quality video calls, IT departments are more interested than ever since they can now devote less departmental resources and reduce the recurring operating costs associated with implementing video conferencing.

Varying Uses

Companies of all sizes are employing a combination of conferencing technologies, as each serves its own purpose. For instance, companies use video conferencing to supplement 'face-to-face' meetings, where the tangible elements of human presence, body language and eye contact are all active components of the meeting. This differs somewhat from Web conferencing, which companies are using almost exclusively to collaborate and share documents. In other words, video and audio conferencing are being used to make faster, smarter decisions, whereas Web conferencing is being used to get work done rapidly in a collaborative environment.

More Affordable

With escalating international violence and terrorism still a point of concern for many business professionals around the world, conferencing companies realize that the technology is more relevant than ever, and with enhanced quality and reliability, demand will only continue to grow. What is happening in the conferencing technologies space can be best described as a communications phenomenon; akin to the boom of the home computer in the '80s. It was only a couple of years ago that revolutionary technologies like video conferencing were only available to large companies with equally large budgets. This has changed in the advent of the 'consumeration' of conferencing technologies.

Two years ago, you could have expected to spend $30,000 on two video conferencing units and many thousands of dollars on monthly network usage fees for a modest package linking two offices. Although big firms were happy to pay these prices to eliminate travel cost and productivity loss, the formidable upfront costs were a barrier to entry for smaller companies. Entry-level products start at as little as $400 and maintenance-free, unlimited-use services packages start at $500 per month. One year ago, a simple package linking two offices in different geographical regions with the high-end IP service would have cost tens of thousands of dollars in set-up, network integration and maintenance. Today, the same package can be purchased for as little as four thousand dollars. Last year, a study by Wainhouse Research, showed that companies could expect to break even twelve months after implementing a video conferencing system, factoring in cost savings associated with business travel, lodging and dining. Today, companies can easily break even after two to three months after implementation.

Breakthrough Products

Video conferencing is the new 'Face-to-Face' meeting. Wainhouse Research's recent study, along with every other study that has been conducted recently on video conferencing, shows that people are now able to effectively receive all of the key elements present with in-person face-to-face meetings (body language, eye contact, hand movements, subtle gestures). The technology has improved so drastically that it's literally like being in the room with the person you are meeting with. Polycom, the leading manufacturer of video conferencing products in the world, recently released a product called the VSX 7000, which touts television-like video quality and integrated speakers that deliver sound crisp enough to make you forget that your meeting participants are actually not in the same room.

A Different World

It's a different world out there. All accounts suggest that people around the world feel less safe and they are turning to efficient methods of communications that will allow them to communicate without taking the risks and drawbacks associated with traveling to their meetings. These include terrorism, disease, loss of productivity and the expense of traveling.

With regard to concerns over terrorism, the continuing violence in the Middle East, escalating outbreaks of violence in Africa and Europe and the creation of a national terror alert, there is more resistance to fly than ever. Communication in today's business world is different; it's riskier and costlier. If it's safer, more affordable and efficient to meet face-to-face over video than it is face-to-face in person oversees, companies will always chose video conferencing over the latter because both accomplish the same result and provide the same effect. A recent report showed that employees still would prefer not to fly to their next out-of-town business meeting. Employers also prefer that their employees not fly since it is estimated that companies can reduce their traveling expenditures by more than fifty percent every year by simply introducing video conferencing to their overall communications program. In many cases, the savings equates to hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The Findings

In the second quarter of 2004, Wainhouse Research conducted a comprehensive study regarding the applications and usage of conferencing technologies and how they are impacting the way we communicate. Click here for the study: http://www.ivci.com/...BusinessTravelSurvey2004.pdf

For additional information regarding IVCi products and services, or to speak to a representative, please contact IVCi at 800-224-7083, or click here to have an IVCi Representative contact you.


Size Matters

Conferencing Vendors Tailor Solutions for SMBs

by Tara Seals

Conferencing has been a popular and necessary service for large businesses and enterprises for years. Meanwhile, small and medium businesses have suffered from a lack of offers that fit their needs. Most SMBs don't need a fully integrated system with unified messaging, morphing Web presentation Windows and Webcast capability, and they definitely don't need a room-based video conferencing system. A simple Web or video conferencing offer would be useful, however.

“Small to medium-sized companies are rapidly adopting conferencing across all aspects of their businesses, increasingly using conferencing as a way to manage travel expenses. They're realizing that conferencing is a powerful tool that is actually very affordable and ultimately scalable,” says Chuck Mancini, president and CEO of ECI Conference Call Services LLC, which has a wholesale program.

Video is a particularly pent-up market. “Until recently, the video conferencing industry focused primarily on the enterprise market,” says Ira Weinstein, a senior analyst at Wainhouse Research. “Innovative and cost-effective solutions... will play a key role in the growth of the conferencing and collaboration industry.”

Glowpoint Inc., an IP-based video communications service provider, has expanded its “All You Can See” unlimited video calling plans to meet the needs of smaller businesses, including telecommuters, home offices and corporate satellite offices. It is part of GlowPoint's new Individual Video Access service class (IVA), which uses the H.264 video transport protocol to improve call quality at lower bandwidth. IVA costs about $299 per month.

“By offering a suite of services and support for smaller businesses normally found only in enterprise grade, business-class products, GlowPoint has opened the doors to incremental business and further adoption of videoconferencing,” says David Trachtenberg, GlowPoint's CEO.

The solution is available on a wholesale basis: SoHo Video Solutions will integrate GlowPoint's offer in a video conferencing bundle that includes a Sony PCS-11 video endpoint, a 32 inch monitor and a three year maintenance program, including SoHo's “One-Call” customer service.

Not to be outdone, Polycom Inc. has launched the Polycom V500, a video calling system for small and medium-sized businesses and telecommuters. The system delivers natural, enterprise-quality video communications at 30 frames per second and Polycom Siren14 wideband audio, also using H.264 video compression. The solution is available for under $2,000.

“What we're seeing is a wider usage model for video conferencing for businesses that didn't consider it before,” says Polycom's Maggie Smith, director of video communication product marketing. “We wanted to provide something that was simple yet provided the essential video conferencing, but also affordable: For the price of a new laptop, you can add a video system. You simply hook it to a TV, connect the Internet interface and you're ready.”

The V500 is available via Polycom distributors and wholesale partners. The first service provider to market and sell the Polycom V500 is AT&T Corp. “The Polycom V500 is an exciting product for AT&T's small and medium- sized business customer base and is a natural complement to AT&T's end-to-end class of service network, IP gateways and bridging services,” says Jim Stapleton, marketing director for AT&T Select Accounts. “This is a significant move toward driving the mass adoption of video, with a solution that fits within every business budget without sacrificing video quality and gives small and medium-sized organizations a great business application for increasing collaboration and communication.”

Polycom also has partnered with IVCi, which launched the “Free Every 3” program that offers small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) a turnkey solution for interactive video communications. Free Every 3 combines IVCi's IntelliNet IP managed video conferencing network service and the V500, for a flat monthly fee. Program users receive a new V500, or its most recent Polycom equivalent, every three years at no additional cost.

“For many companies with fewer than 500 employees, cost and technical complexity have been barriers to the adoption of video as a viable communication solution within their organizations,” explains Chris Bottger, vice president and general manager of IVCi.

Audio and Web offers for SMBs are also becoming more cost-effective and getting easier to use. “We're branching out into new markets and penetrating heretofore unserved markets,” says NetworkIP's Scott Walters, director of conferencing sales and development. “What I've seen is there's a trend towards product diversification, and that means simplifying products and not always enabling them with so many bells and whistles. Along those lines, there's a push towards serving SMBs and even consumers with these audio/Web products.”

For a simplified approach, the Conference Group has introduced the Real-time Account Provisioning system, an on-demand customer interface that can issue instant Web/audio conference passcodes, tailored for the smaller, ad hoc conferencing user. Partners can put a link on their Web sites to an online portal where users can purchase a passcode with a credit card. Customers instantly receive passcodes on a confirmation screen and by e-mail. The partner is then credited for the sale.

Available to agents now, the functionality will be rolled out in a privately branded capacity for resellers later this year, says Greg Plum, the Conference Group's alternate channel manager. “Or perhaps we'll give them 1,000 codes and they can go ahead and provision at will, and we can replenish those codes as needed,” he says.

“We have opted to use a tool that doesn't require reservations,” Plum notes. “It has the application-sharing functionality, you can pass controls among users and you have the ability to transfer files as you see fit. But we kind of stayed away from the type of product that has whiteboarding and video embedded, simply because the resources required on the end user side are a little bit greater and we've run into issues with firewalls. So this is streamlined from a resource standpoint, for the SMBs.”

PAETEC Communications Inc. has added enhanced audio and Web-based conference calling to its portfolio, available via the company's resellers and agents. Tailored for customers with no need for frills, the service gives customers a bridge number that can be used at any time and free Web-based conferencing with desktop sharing capabilities, allowing the conference chairperson to share any application via a simple Web-based interface. While full-featured, operator-controlled conferencing also is available from PAETEC for large, formal conferences, the real target is the SMB crowd, according to John Chapman, PAETEC's vice president of marketing. “There's a real need here,” he says. “They need something robust, but not too complicated or too expensive, and that's what we've tried to deliver.”

That said, there are some features that appeals to SMBs. “We're...seeing a shift to more advanced feature utilization on automated conferencing, such as call recording and moderator dial-out and an increasing use of Web conferencing to get the effectiveness of a face-to-face meeting without the associated expense,” says Karen Verelley, senior director of marketing communications and public relations at ECI.

For additional information regarding IVCi products and services, or to speak to a representative, please contact IVCi at 800-224-7083, or click here to have an IVCi Representative contact you.

All trade names, trademarks, and/or service marks herein are owned by their respective holders.

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