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January 10, 2008

Leading the Charge to HD Telepresence

By Rich Tehrani, President and Editor-in-Chief

LifeSize (News - Alert) maintains that its mission is to deliver on the promise of video: face to face communication that feels as natural as being in someone's office. Using an existing broadband network, LifeSize high definition video systems provide a full telepresence experience at a price that is affordable and accessible to everyone who needs to communicate with colleagues across town or across the globe.
I caught up with LifeSize CTO Casey King who shared with me his thoughts about high definition video conferencing, LifeSize’s place in that industry, and what attendees can expect to hear during the two sessions King is participating in at the upcoming ITEXPO (News - Alert).
RT: What trends are you noticing in the communications market?
CK: Video and IP are converging faster than predicted. Video is simply moving everywhere, and video is how we will communicate in the future. High definition screens are becoming ubiquitous for TVs and computer monitors, and LifeSize is leading the transition from standard definition videoconferencing to accessible, high definition telepresence. And it is all happening over existing shared IP data networks, many of which were recently upgraded to handle VoIP.
RT: Did 2007 finish the way your company expected?
CK: 2007 exceeded all expectations. We launched LifeSize Express and the product was an absolute hit. Customers love everything about it — the small form factor, the low price, the simple interface and the gorgeous high definition it delivers. LifeSize Express changes perceptions of what is possible with video technology. LifeSize Express quickly became our best seller and is expanding the world of telepresence to a far broader audience.
RT: Is 2008 going to be a better year than 2007?
CK: 2008 is going to be a phenomenal year. All of the drivers for telepresence — the global economy, the misery of air travel and the desire to reduce carbon dioxide emissions — are intensifying. At the same time, people want to reclaim their lives. They’re tired of being on planes and in airports and hotels and want to be home with their families. And, people like seeing each other. Video is natural.
RT: What technologies have altered the market the most?
CK: Three technologies are changing the market: High-definition (HD) video, modern video codecs (H.264) and VoIP. The adoption of HD video has been faster than expected — you can’t even buy CRTs in many electronics stores anymore — and once you see HD, you never want regular TV again. Modern video codecs make HD high-quality, bandwidth friendly and most importantly, standards-based and interoperable. VoIP, and network upgrades to support VoIP, had an unintended consequence: it made networks ready to support a much wider range of network applications, including hosted applications, streaming video and telepresence. It took the promise of VoIP to drive the network upgrades, but it was a powerful idea that created a desire to dramatically improve the status quo.
RT: How has Skype changed the telecom market?
CK: Skype has delivered high-quality voice over IP without building a network, but Skype is proprietary. Standards-based solutions offer greater interoperability and benefit the end user by letting many companies compete to deliver greater innovation and variety. Without standards-based interoperability, it is an island of technology.
RT: How will Apple, Google and Microsoft each change the telecom space?
CK: Apple’s iPhone changed the world for mobile devices. I bought mine on day 1. iPhone challenges your existing notions of what you want in a device and what you expect the network to do. You don’t think of voice, data and video networks — you think of one. Google, and YouTube (News - Alert) in particular, are driving a revolution in consumer-generated video shared worldwide. Microsoft has a big vision on the promise of unified communications, and they will be a major player in moving from where we are today to the future.
RT: Do you have predictions about the 700 MHz auction?
CK: 700 MHz is technically exciting — it has great geographic reach and building penetration — and it’s the last big chunk of spectrum likely to be auctioned for a long time. What I’d like to see happen is that this new spectrum will become a powerful competitive force to DSL and cable, and that broadband access will increase, costs will drop and bandwidth will explode. Let’s hope!
RT: What are the brightest spots in your business going forward?
CK: The brightest spots in our business are the opportunities to take telepresence to the next level — the quality and value of our LifeSize systems enable companies with an existing video infrastructure to improve both the quality and reach of existing deployments. And there is a virtually untapped market within the small and medium business segment — when they see high definition video, they immediately see how it can help their organization. They put it to use and it delivers time, travel and cost savings immediately, and they become some of our most enthusiastic fans.
RT: What are the biggest threats you see to your company’s success?
CK: The biggest threat to our success is the legacy of poor quality video systems that failed to deliver on the promise of video. We have had enormous success with small and medium businesses with no previous exposure to video conferencing systems. They take one look at high definition system, they see the clear picture, the fluid motion, and they immediately see the value. On the other hand, people in large companies have been burned by expensive, low-resolution, low-frame-rate systems.
RT: What will conferees learn from your ITEXPO conference session this month?
CK: I’ll be speaking on two panels “Future Trends in IP Communications” on 1/23 and “Unified Communications (News - Alert) and Collaboration” on 1/24. Both panels will discuss where things really ARE moving — not just theory, but what you’ll be seeing in the next few years. The first panel will be more technical, the second more business process oriented, but I think both will have some great information that you can put to immediate use.
RT: Who should attend?
CK: Anyone who wants to ask real-world questions about how telepresence impacts the organization (cost, travel and time savings as well), improves collaboration (speeding business decision cycles) and impacts network performance (suggested strategies for implementing video on your existing corporate network).
RT: What unique perspectives will you offer?
CK: My perspective will be from the rather unique position of a developer who is also an avid user of our own technology — I use the high definition video systems we built every day to talk to developers around the world. Best of all, I am a convert — I was not enthusiastic about video at all until I saw what high definition could deliver. If you are a video skeptic, come join us!
RT: What is the most exciting market change we can expect in communications in technology in 2008 and beyond?
CK: I’m biased — but the adoption of video in all forms is tremendously exciting, and telepresence is the most exciting. From an anthropological perspective, it’s almost like coming full circle. Talking on the phone without seeing the other person isn’t natural. Texting isn’t natural. E-mail isn’t natural. Face to face communication is completely natural. Of all the technologies I can imagine, telepresence most closely replicates the human experience.
RT: Please make one surprising prediction for 2008.
CK: 2008 will be the year when the culture of the road warrior is abandoned en masse. Once seen as a heroic embodiment of personal commitment and resourcefulness, the road warrior mystique has been shattered as more people got on more planes and realized, wow, business travel is miserable. For a while, the solution was to load the road warrior up with a portable office — a laptop, cell phone, PDA — and we thought that better gadgets would make travel better. In 2008, people who find smart ways to avoid travel will be the new corporate heroes. They’ll save money, pollute less, get more done and be happier.
Rich Tehrani is President and Group Editor in Chief at TMC (News - Alert). In addition he is the Chairman of the world’s best attended IP Communications event, Internet Telephony Conference & EXPO.
Mark your calendars! Internet Telephony Conference & EXPO — the first major IP communications event of the year — is just days away. It’s not too late to register for the event, which takes place in Miami Beach, FL, January 23–25, 2008. The EXPO will feature three valuable days of exhibits, conferences and networking that you won’t want to miss. So what are you waiting for? Sign up now!

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