There are few technologies which are a crucial part of helping companies not only save money but also become more productive and efficient. As technology and especially the internet and broadband IP communications continue to transform industries, conferencing and collaboration solutions have improved at a rapid clip. As high definition video communications gets better, it begins to truly approach the realism of live interaction.
Recently I took a trip to the island of Manhattan to meet with Colin Buechler, Senior VP Marketing of LifeSize to learn how they are helping companies offset the effects of a slowing global economy through the intelligent use of the latest in IP communications technology. The company is relatively new but still, in the first six months of this year LifeSize achieved a staggering growth rate of 150%. These are incredible numbers and while it is obvious the second half of this year presents a more demanding environment, Buechler says he remains cautiously optimistic.
He further says his company is growing five times the industry average and credits this to an innovation and design advantage he says is 24 months ahead of the competition allowing better price/performance. He explains that since his company ships in smaller numbers they can't rely on procurement advantages for better pricing. Instead, they build all of their products from the image processing to the hardware and software, themselves.
One of the areas he mentioned where the different approach has paid off is the use of FPGAs instead of numerous DSPs to wring out better performance per dollar spent while allowing LifeSize systems to excel in low bandwidth situations.
Buechler cited statistics about the market from Wainhouse Research who says the video communications space grew at 37% last year and from Frost & Sullivan who say the market will grow 20% for the next five years. Estimates like this are obviously good reason for companies in this space to be optimistic about their collective futures. In addition, it should be enough for companies to consider looking seriously at video communications solutions.
There are many categories of growth LifeSize is looking to take advantage of from the SMB where there is less than 1% penetration. In addition they point to the fact that 1/3 of their customers are new to video as a tremendously bullish sign. Then there are the vertical markets such as education, telemedicine, telejustice, healthcare including surprising areas such as remote psychiatric diagnosis.
In one example, the company was able to supply technology to a neonatal hospital which allowed premature babies to be diagnosed 1/3 of the time using IP communications. This means less unnecessary transporting of babies and more importantly, faster treatment of babies who have health issues.
As prices decrease for HDTVs, I expect to see video being used more often in unexpected ways/places. For example, in the LifeSize headquarters it is not uncommon for engineers who are working from home to turn their video systems towards the door so that when someone comes in their office they can actually see them working from home and have the same conversation they would have had with them if they were "live" and in the office. I can see this becoming more common in business.
Another strong factor in favor of today's videoconferencing solutions is the savings of T&E which can be quite substantial. So IT dollars can be spent to not only improve productivity but in addition they are able to simultaneously cut hotel and transportation costs.
The company has recently launched the Conference 200, a full HD, standards-based solution capable of higher resolutions and refresh rates -- 1080p30 and 720p60. The company has also released new Team 200 and Room 200 units. I did get a chance to demo this technology and it was impressive. The clarity and depth of image were quite good. I also should point out the best way to really test these systems is to put them side by side with units from the competition such as Tandberg and Polycom and then drop the bandwidth down while testing image quality.
Another plus -- these units now work with UC solutions from Siemens, Cisco, ShoreTel, Microsoft and others. Moreover, there has been an increased focus on interoperability with other vendors and flexibility with regards to room systems allowing companies to more closely have systems fit with the décor of their offices.
Having seen Skype change business models in the VoIP space I asked how Skype video is changing the market landscape for telepresence/HD video. Buechler says the more people who use video, the better - he sees people upgrading to better quality video, once they get used to using video regularly. I asked if we would see them implement Skype Interop soon and while there is no confirmation this will happen, it didn't seem out of the question either though.
We have been asking for years which will be the year of videoconferencing. I remember this question floated around in the early nineties. While I can't definitively tell you which year was or will be the year of videoconferencing, what I can tell you this will be the global economic slowdown of videoconferencing. This will be the era when companies will look for better quality conferencing to reduce their travel costs while boosting their corporate productivity.