Logitech’s LifeSize division is making big bets on video conferencing with the launch of a new cloud-based service and the acquisition of an Italian company to extend video communications to mobile devices. The idea behind these moves is to make video conferencing more accessible and affordable. The question is: When will video hit critical mass?
Before getting into the LifeSize news, let’s talk about the video conferencing market.
All video conferencing and telepresence announcements and product launches share the same characteristic: cost savings and productivity. Every vendor in this segment argues that video conferencing will improve employee productivity, reduce travel costs and making inter-personal business relationships more productive.
This line of reasoning first appeared in 2005 when the first over-the-Internet video conferencing products and services started hitting the market. At the time, fuel prices were spiking following the Hurricane Katrina disaster. As the cost of travel crept up, video conferencing vendors pushed hard on the notion that their products would save businesses money by keeping their people at home base without losing the “in-person” feel of a road-warrior meetings.
Six years later, business travel is just as pervasive as it ever was and video conferencing isn’t institutionalized. While more people are using video tools and video traffic is the fastest growing segment of Internet bandwidth consumption, video conferencing is still a novelty and not a necessity.
Evidence is mounting that video conferencing is building mass. Research firm Infonetics predicts the video conferencing and telepresence market will reach $5 billion annually by 2015. Gartner is more optimistic, forecasting the market to become $8.6 billion in the same period.
Video conferencing vendors seem to think the market will grow, too. Cisco’s justification for buying Tandberg and WebEx was, in part, to bolster its video conferencing business and complement its expensive telepresence division. Polycom recently bought Hewlett-Packard’s video conferencing assets and opened a multilateral partnership with Microsoft and Juniper Networks to grow its conferencing business. Vu Telepresence – a low-cost alternative to Cisco – claims to have captured a 4 percent market share in its first seven months. And Logitech, LifeSize’s parent company, is pushing deeper into video conferencing by offering its peripheral products as components of other vendors’ video and unified communications solutions.
LifeSize, a company built on delivering high-quality, high-definition video communications, is banking on now being the time that video conferencing accelerates. It believes stimulating faster adoption is a matter of introducing more accessible and affordable products to the market.
“It can be a greater adoption trend,” says Mary Miller, director of product marketing at LifeSize. “It hasn’t reached the tipping point. We need to continue to add options to meet the needs of the customers.”
And adding options is what LifeSize is doing.
First, it’s launching LifeSize Passport Connect, an affordable solution that provides enterprises and SMBs with high-definition video capabilities that work with existing networking and communications infrastructure. The $1,499 annual service works with leading cloud and unified communications solutions, such as those offered by Alcatel-Lucent and Microsoft. It also has the ability to extend video conferencing connections to non-employees outside the corporate perimeter.
Second is the launch of LifeSize Connection, a cloud-based video conferencing service. The service requires no networking assets, just the local endpoint video connections. The service starts at $30 per month per user or $100 per month per conference room. It enables multi-user video conferences, and users can extend accessibility to non-employees through a guest feature.
Third, LifeSize is acquiring Mirial, a Milan-based provider of personal and mobile video conferencing solution. The intent is to integrate Mirial’s technology with the LifeSize and Logitech video conferencing portfolio, enabling high-quality video communications with smartphones and tablets.
LifeSize’s initiatives and the acquisition are impressive. They will enhance existing offerings and provide a competitive differentiator that other vendors don’t have. But it must be asked whether this will make a difference in the totality of the video conferencing/communications market?
Much of what LifeSize is offering is already available through consumer services such as Skype and Apple’s Facetime. Microsoft is intent on integrating its recent $8.5 billion purchase Skype, which provides free video conferencing and fee-based premium services. Like the early days of instant messaging, several vendors came to market with enterprise-class services, and yet the users gravitated to the free consumer services out of ease of use, convenience and cost. So, we have to ask whether that will be the case with video conferencing, as well?
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Lawrence M. Walsh is CEO and president of The 2112 Group, a technology business advisory service that specializes in optimizing indirect channels and partner relationships. He’s also the executive director of the Channel Vanguard Council. He is the former publisher of Channel Insider and editor of VARBusiness Magazine. You can reach him at [email protected].
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