VoiceCon: How will video kill the voice star? A look at Avistar, TANDBERG, and Vidyo

Previously I’d observed that there were quite a few video-centric vendors at VoiceCon, and that even during the keynotes and breakout sessions the topic of video interaction was brought up several times. It’s obviously that the video vendors think their technologies are ready for prime time, but the question remains whether or not customers will bite. And more specifically, how will the video conferencing technology apply in the contact center?

During the Contact Center Update and Executive Forum moderated by Sheila McGee-Smith, some executives shared their opinions about video’s application in the contact center. Jorge Blanco, VP of Contact Center Solutions Product Marketing at Avaya, saw video as a trend and predicted 4G to accelerate demand. However, Tim Passios of Interactive Intelligence offered a contrary view that he’s not seeing the demand in the contact center and predicts there won’t be any for the next five years. Nicolas De Kouchkovsky of Alcatel-Lucent agreed with Passios and added that only certain market segments would benefit from video applications. Based on these answers it was apparent that nobody had a firm grasp of video’s place in the contact center, but they didn’t deny that the day wouldn’t come for video-based contact center applications.

I had the opportunity to meet with folks from Avistar, TANDBERG, and Vidyo, to learn some more about the companies as well as seeing demos of their products at VoiceCon. These vendors each approach the market in different ways. There are those whose solutions require both hardware and software, while other vendors focus on just the software.

Avistar was a company I’d never heard of, but after meeting CTO Chris Lauwers and as CMO Stephen Epstein shared some information, it was obvious that I’d actually been a benefactor of its video technology for quite some time. You see, 60% of Avistar revenues came from licensing its software to others like Logitech and LifeSize (acquired by the former in December 2009). I’ve got a Logitech webcam clipped to my home office LCD monitor which works great. According to Epstein, Avistar’s strength lie in its software-based, client-server approach to video conferencing. Customers can use any manufacturer’s laptop, desktop, and webcam — everything will work together. Additionally, in a multi-party video conference session which participants use varied video resolutions, unlike some of its competitors Avistar’s software doesn’t scale-down to the lowest common resolution. In effect, multi-platform, multi-party, multi-resolution video conferencing is achieved to provide a much better user experience. Along with a tiered pricing model announced during VoiceCon, Avistar is aiming to provide the best value for the buck as well.

TANDBERG needs no introduction. It’s a well-known video conferencing and telepresence company, and soon will be absorbed into video behemoth Cisco. Why was Cisco interested in TANDBERG? The company’s product line complements Cisco’s, but more importantly, TANDBERG has always believed in putting out its video solutions with adherence to existing industry standards as well as interoperability to Cisco’s proprietary protocols. In other words, TANDBERG plays nice with everyone. Larry Satterfield, President of Americas Commercial Sector, shared with me that interest and usage of video conferencing products are definitely on the rise, especially among medium-sized businesses. And what of the announcement from HP of dropping TANDBERG for Polycom? Satterfield opined that with Cisco’s acquisition it wasn’t a surprising business move by HP, but as far as he’s aware, nothing much has changed between the two companies since the announcement. To me the most exciting press release from TANDBERG during VoiceCon was the new Advanced Media Gateway which enables HD video interoperability between Microsoft OCS and other standards-based video solutions. (I told you TANDBERG plays nice with everyone.)

Vidyo — vid who? Don’t be embarrassed if you’d never heard of Hackensack, NJ-based Vidyo. After all, the privately-held company founded in 2005 operated under stealth mode until the beginning of 2008. In a major win for the company, its technology powers Google’s voice and video chat feature. There’s an unwritten rule in the tech industry: never ignore a company that Google pays attention to or buys from. Vidyo’s approach is to offer hardware and software to achieve the optimal user experience. It makes boxes for video routing, gateways to work with “legacy” (or “competing”) video conferencing solutions, and high-end telepresence, as well as all the software necessary to make everything work together. I would definitely keep an eye on this company in the competitive video conferencing landscape.

Judging from the interest in video at VoiceCon, any business or worker ought to look into using video conferencing today. Choppy audio, robotic moves, and unwanted image artifacts are close to things of the past, and with what’s available out there in the market today, there’s simply no excuse not to include video in your business and personal online interactions.


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