Telepresence Takes a Back Seat to More Affordable, Flexible Videoconferencing

By Paula Bernier, Executive Editor, TMC  |  December 05, 2013

Telepresence (News - Alert) got loads of attention a while back as Cisco and others sold us on the concept based on its exciting ability to make VIPs across town, across the country, or on the other side of the globe, feel as if they are sitting across the table from one another. But the market for such high-end videoconferencing solutions, which was very limited to begin with, has stagnated. Meanwhile, more – and much more affordable – videoconferencing solutions are becoming available and are seeing a fair amount of success.

“There’s been a rush to the bottom,” says Andrew Davis, senior partner at Wainhouse Research.

The bottom has fallen out of the market for multi-codec videoconferencing solutions with three screens, multiple cameras, and sometimes even special conference room design services, he said, adding that most videoconferencing requirements are more than adequately met with the $1,000 to $2,000 solutions available today.

In the second quarter of 2013, the video infrastructure business experienced significant negative growth compared to the year-earlier period, according to Wainhouse. There was growth, however, in the single codec product category, while multi-codec/telepresence systems “continued their serious decline.” Meanwhile, during same period, both sequential and annual growth rates for the endpoint business returned to positive numbers. However, the research firm added, “the growth rates are puny compared to historical averages.” (This Wainhouse study did not track the personal videoconferencing market.)

“Visual communications and videoconferencing continue to permeate the marketplace, and if you’re a Polycom (News - Alert) or Cisco [which account for two-thirds of the market share], what you’ve seen is a drastic drop in the growth rate for these companies. But it’s not because videoconference is in decline. It’s because the eye of the market and the revenue has shifted elsewhere,” said Davis. The shift, he said, is to more affordable solutions, including mobile and desktop offers, “some of which are virtually free.”

Companies such as Tely Labs now offer sub-$1,000 huddle room systems that do a darn good job with audio and video quality, Davis says. Tely Labs in July introduced telyHD Pro, which has a list price of $649 and is aimed at secondary and tertiary conference rooms. The product now owns 14.6 percent of the North American videoconferencing market share, according to the SpotCheck Group Video Conferencing Q2-2013 report by Wainhouse Research.

AVer Information Inc. Americas is another vendor in the sub-$1,000 videoconferencing space. AVer came out with its first videoconferencing endpoint four years ago. Then, in 2011, it unveiled the HVC310, a four-way MCU selling for $4,500. But AVer Information decided that for its videoconferencing solutions to really be successful in the mid-market space it needed to get to a sub-$1,000 price point, Kris Rangarajan, marketing director at AVer Information, recently told INTERNET TELEPHONY. At the same time, the company wanted to make the solution very easy to configure, even when working with other vendors’ solutions, and simple to use. The result was the EVC100, which AVer announced a couple months ago.

This solution provides all components, with the exception of the display device and Internet connectivity, in one box. The gear can be set up in 5 to 10 minutes. And AVer is partnering with cloud providers including Blue Jeans Network, Vidtel, and Zoom to ensure interoperability with the cloud.

“We are positioning [the EVC100] as the endpoint for the cloud because interoperability has to play in to the cost piece for this to be successful,” said Rangarajan, who added that businesses can try the system via the AVer test drive kit.

Another new contender in the videoconferencing space is startup Perch. Presenting at the recent StartupCamp co-located at ITEXPO (News - Alert) Vegas, Danny Robinson of Perch said that the company’s solution aims to preserve company culture by delivering a solution for ad hoc videoconferencing between individuals or work groups. Perch lets people within the organization communicate more easily – and on a more personal level – for purely business or more personal reasons. And corporate culture spreads when people get to know each other on a personal level, he said.

Perch is available as a free App Store application, although the company expects in the future to charge for administrative features like managed bandwidth control and other premium features. The app drives an always-on video window (a mounted iPad) that connects spaces together and makes people feel they are in the same location. The system goes live when it detects a face. The idea is to enable people to pop in and out of meetings quickly and easily.

“The built-in video capabilities of smartphones, tablets, laptops, and desktop computers have made video conferencing much more attractive to users in companies of all sizes,” said Frederic Dickey, Sangoma director of customer services, which recently introduced a Vega Video MCU that allows SIP endpoints schedule and initiate ad hoc video conferences.

In addition to the shift to more affordable and built-in video capabilities, the videoconferencing space has seen the introduction of some software-only solutions running on industry-standard x86 servers, the rise of the scalable video coding standard, and the arrival of a potentially disruptive technology known as WebRTC, noted Davis.

First to market with the scalable video coding was Vidyo, said Davis, who added that was disruptive in that it allowed the company to deliver a high quality solution at a low price.

Vidyo recently was recognized by Forrester Research (News - Alert) Inc. as having the “the best overall video quality and performance” among the 10 vendors it invited to participate in a September 2013 report

“Vidyo’s routing architecture shifts the heavy media-processing power from bridges to the endpoints, significantly reducing the cost per port to deploy videoconferencing,” according to Forrester. “In our demo, Vidyo clearly delivered the best overall video quality, even with a large number of participants. Vidyo is foremost a provider of desktop video onferencing but also sells room systems based on the same software and routing architecture. Its ability to deliver solutions from the desktop to the conference room put it more squarely in competition with room-based vendors.”

Davis noted that while Vidyo was early to SVC, now Microsoft (News - Alert) Lync 2013 uses it, as does Polycom. That, Davis said, raises the question: Once everyone adopts SVC, where does that leave Vidyo?

Meanwhile, Davis, among many others, believes that WebRTC has the potential to create a huge disruption in the video space. However, WebRTC has several hurdles to overcome before it can reach its full potential. Still unknown are whether WebRTC will be supported in the Apple and Microsoft browsers. At the same time, the WebRTC camp needs to settle the internal struggle as to which codecs to use.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi