Huddle Room Solutions: Filling the Videoconferencing Gap Between the Boardroom & the PC

By Paula Bernier, Executive Editor, TMC  |  January 14, 2016

The very essence of work is changing, and so too is collaboration, including videoconferencing. Increasingly, people are working remotely. Those who work from offices these days often do so in open, shared spaces. When they need to do private meetings or interface with remotely located colleagues, customers, or partners, they may move to small conference rooms to do so. And now videoconferencing companies are delivering solutions they say are uniquely aimed at addressing the requirements of these so-called huddle rooms.

“Huddle rooms became really popular when we went into cube land,” and there was nowhere else for people to get together, says Chip Manning of VDO360, which sells videoconferencing cameras and resells speakerphones. However, Manning doesn’t like the term huddle room. He says it indicates something secretive, whereas a huddle room is about just the opposite: sharing.

A huddle room, as defined by Wainhouse (News - Alert) Research in a Polycom-sponsored white paper published in October, is a meeting room that can accommodate only a small number – typically six or fewer – attendees. There are approximately 1.5-2 million group videoconferencing rooms around the world today, according to Wainhouse, but far more huddle rooms, which number from 30-50 million.

"We've seen a huge shift in the way people work, and that includes a big uptick in huddle rooms or space where people can meet on the fly,” says Zach Holmquist, CTO and co-founder of EventBoard. “In today's flexible, fast-moving workplace, impromptu meetings are something companies need to accommodate. Based on what we're seeing from our own customers, we expect the use of these huddle rooms to grow by at least 20 percent in the next four years."  

Most huddle rooms include a small table, a few chairs, and possibly a speakerphone or PBX (News - Alert) phone; some also have standard dry erase or flip charts; a small percentage of huddle rooms include a flat panel display, a VGA.HDMI cable so users can present from their notebook computers, and maybe even a wireless presentation system, Wainhouse says, while advanced huddle rooms may include audio and/or videoconferencing solutions. But while videoconferencing can be found in some huddle rooms, and perhaps more over time, Wainhouse Research suggests that these spaces “are all about compromise.” That means there’s a need for decent audio, lighting, and video, but no expectation for super high-end experiences on these fronts, the firm notes.

In light of all the buzz around huddle rooms, an array of videoconferencing solutions providers are now creating and packaging products specifically targeted at this opportunity.

For example, both Polycom (News - Alert) and Tely in October introduced new videoconferencing solutions targeting the huddle room.

Polycom’s RealPresence Debut is a huddle room video solution list priced at $1,999 that delivers 1080p video and content. It features a pan tilt and zoom mechanical camera. The system provisions itself within two to three minutes. Users can control it via a special remote or using their smartphones or other wireless devices. And organizations can use it in concert with their existing Polycom gear, if they have it, and with Polycom’s cloud-based service, if they like.

The Tely solution, called Tely 200, is an easy to use endpoint that works with any cloud-based video service. Despite Wainhouse Research’s comments noted above, Tely President and CEO Todd Abbott (News - Alert) says that the Tely 200 delivers the same 1080p enterprise-class video quality found in more expensive solutions, as well as a dual-screen video endpoint, and tools for ease of management and deployment.

This solution, Abbott says, addresses what Tely sees as the three key workflows in the huddle space: ad hoc meetings, content sharing, and meeting scheduling. He adds that the Tely solution is designed first and foremost around workflow and collaboration, as opposed to around video itself, so video can be part of the supported collaboration, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be.

There’s a need for videoconferencing solutions designed specifically for huddle rooms, Abbott suggests, because there’s a gap between the expensive and often difficult to manage big room systems and PC-based solutions that don’t scale. Tely is bringing its huddle room solutions to the market via channel partners with managed video services.

Lifesize, meanwhile, is addressing the huddle room opportunity with its Icon 400 solution, which sells for $2,500 to $3,500, which can be paired with its service, or not. This product offers high audio and visual quality via its high-grade glass optical lenses and high-grade speakerphones. The Icon 400 is ideal for huddle room environments, says Chief Product Officer Michael Helmbrecht, because it’s extremely easy to use. It features click-to-call functionality and delivers a common user experience across all devices.

While more companies are bringing videoconferencing into their huddle rooms, Abbott and Helmbrecht indicate that their companies and other suppliers have just scratched the surface on this opportunity.

“It is a very large untapped market,” says Abbott, who estimates that’s about $50 million in the U.S. alone.

Helmbrecht of Lifesize adds only 10 to 15 percent of the opportunity in North America has been addressed.

What’s happening now at many businesses that want to leverage videoconferencing in their huddle rooms, adds Helmbrecht, is these organizations are experimenting with a variety of solutions. However, he says, that can result in lower end user adoption of these systems because they don’t know how to use them. A better path, he suggests, is to pick one solution so end users only have to familiarize themselves with one interface. That would also seem to help with economies of scale.

Edited by Maurice Nagle