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Telecommunications Move Online Including Unified Communications, Telepresence, Business and Industry Trends Analysis

VOIP (internet-based telephony or Voice Over Internet Protocol) is only the first step in the telecommunications revolution taking place online.  The next generation is known as “unified communications,” a technology pursued by Microsoft, Cisco and many others.  Special software operating on a local office server, or in the cloud, enables each office worker to have access, via the desktop PC (and via mobile devices with remote access), to communications tools that include VOIP phone service, e-mail, voice mail, fax, instant messaging (IM), collaborative calendars and schedules, contact information such as address books, audio conferencing and video conferencing.
For example, to make a phone call with unified communications you open your communications screen, click on a name in your address book, and the call is placed via VOIP.  To send a fax, you click on a contact’s fax number in your address book, click on the item you want to fax in your documents folder, and the fax is gone.  When you have an incoming phone call, your screen will tell you what number is calling and match that number to a name in your address book.  You might take the call, or you might send it to voice mail with one click.  In the same way that you currently save and archive e-mails, you can digitally record, save, review and archive phone calls.  Mobility, security and advanced collaboration with coworkers are among the features emphasized.
Network equipment giant Cisco is pushing a next-generation video-conferencing technology it refers to as TelePresence.  Cisco provides hardware and software needed to fully equip a state-of-the-art video conferencing room.  Such a room may include as many as three 65-inch plasma monitors, advanced high-speed cameras, projectors, microphones, speakers that are set up so that the sound seems to come directly from the participant who is talking, along with appropriate software.  There are virtually no delays in the conversation, and images are crisp and life-like.  Indeed, the image of a participant, from the chest up, is life-size.  High bandwidth and extremely reliable, fast internet connections are prerequisites.  Its latest TelePresence iteration, the IX5000 Series, offers triple screen video and takes half the installation time, power and bandwidth of existing products.
Cisco offers a smaller system for use in individual offices and a large telepresence room designed for group training and team meetings.  (The company also offers much simpler Unified IP Phone sets with video touchscreens for person-to-person meetings that turns any flat panel display into a telepresence system for small meeting rooms,)
However, the quality of a telepresence meeting relies very heavily on the quality of the equipment involved.  For many major corporate users, near life-like quality is required, such as that delivered by Cisco’s TelePresence equipment.
The advantages to telepresence systems such as Cisco’s are based on making remote meetings more effective and life-like, while enhancing collaboration and communications, as well as greatly reducing the need for expensive, time-consuming business travel.  The goal is to have results from teleconference meetings that near the results of F2F (face-to-face) meetings.  High-end equipment makers are feeling strong competition from startups and lower-priced products.
Another player in videoconferencing is LifeSize Communications based in Austin, Texas.  LifeSize uses high-definition (HD) cameras to send video streams over ordinary internet hardware, and was previously owned by Logitech before spinning off as a standalone company.  Another noteworthy entrant to the telepresence market is Vidyo, Inc., a New Jersey firm which offers a mid-priced, three- to 20-screen videoconferencing room.  In May 2019, Vidyo was acquired by Enghouse Systems Limited for approximately $40 million.

SPOTLIGHT:  Zoom Video Communications, Inc.
Zoom Video Communications, Inc. designs and develops cloud-based video and web conferencing software.  Zoom’s software unifies cloud video conferencing, online meetings, group messaging and conference room solutions into one simple-to-use platform.  The company’s products work across multiple room systems.  Zoom’s software conferencing application program interface (API) runs within a business’ conference room or workspace.  Cloud video conferencing features include HD video and voice, full-screen with gallery views, dual stream/dual screen, feature-rich mobile apps and various ways to join the conferences (Zoom Room, view-only, voice only and more).  The firm also offers a hybrid cloud service with 24/7 online monitoring and instant global service backup.  Partner integrations provide content sharing, scheduling/starting meetings, unified log-in, marketing/process automation and room collaboration.  Pricing plans range from free to $100 per month, among other options.   Zoom is headquartered in San Jose, California, with additional U.S. offices in California, Colorado and Kansas, as well as international offices in Sydney, London, Paris and Amsterdam.  The Coronavirus pandemic spurred phenomenal growth in Zoom meetings.

     Meanwhile, for simpler needs and smaller budgets, startups such as Fuze, formerly FuzeBox, and Blue Jeans Network offer inexpensive subscription software that uses smartphones, tablets and PCs to provide videoconferencing.  Both companies have signed big name corporate customers, including Facebook for Blue Jeans Network and Groupon for Fuze.  Cisco offers its own subscription-based software.  Over the mid-term, watch for more Cloud-based subscription options that offer videoconferencing and telepresence at a fraction of full-blown conference room system prices.

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