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Mobile Video for the Enterprise: Potential and Practical Considerations

Recently, video has grabbed an impressive mindshare among consumers. A plethora of video applications including video streaming, video search, video on demand, and video telephony, including mobile video, are experiencing rapid adoption. YouTube is now the number-two search engine in the world; the tablet and smartphone markets are exploding; and video has just surpassed all other applications in terms of network traffic. The next generation of tech-savvy prosumers using some form of video in their personal lives is going to demand the same experience and capabilities in the business environment.

As mobile video gains popularity among consumers, is it likely to also become the next frontier in enterprise communications and collaboration? My colleagues Roopam Jain and Shyam Krishnan took a look at this market opportunity and presented their findings in a study titled: Assessing the Potential for Mobile Videoconferencing in the Enterprise. Here follows a summary of their key observations.

Technologies that support collaboration among users at different locations are growing in demand. There has been a surge in the interest for videoconferencing, ranging from desktop to telepresence to mobile videoconferencing. As mobility continues to become the norm in everyday life and business alike, end users are looking to extend their enterprise communication experiences to mobile devices.

Faster, smarter, and more capable smart phones and the emergence of collaboration-ready enterprise tablets are fueling the interest in mobile videoconferencing. While we believe that mainstream adoption is still a few years away, the demand drivers are all aligned for the market to pick up pace.

The 2010 worldwide shipments of tablets (partially or entirely) used for business purposes was 600,000 units and is expected to go up to 49.1 million in 2015. We project that 90% of the enterprise tablets shipped in 2015 will have forward-facing cameras and will therefore be video-enabled.

Smartphone growth will be explosive. With shipments nearing 263 million smartphones in 2010, that number is expected to grow to about 500 million in 2015. In 2015, it is forecast that 90% of the smartphones will have forward-facing cameras and therefore will be video-enabled, growing up from 35% in 2010.

The move toward 4G will help carriers deliver higher-quality video. Carriers are jockeying for a more competitive position as the mobile industry moves towards 4G networks. As high bandwidth networks become widely available and camera and phone technologies continue to improve we expect to see more mobile videoconferencing on the horizon. However, there are challenges in store. As the usage of both streaming video and 2-way video catches on with users, it threatens to strangle the networks. Recent moves by network carriers to constrain the demand with monthly data caps will be a hindrance in videoconferencing usage.

Despite all the exciting developments on the device and carrier side and the growing need to have a videoconferencing solution, enterprise-level adoption is still nascent and needs to overcome several challenges, including deployment costs, business case, and increasing levels of security for wireless communications. Security issues with mobile technology are going to be a key focus as the market develops. IT will increasingly standardize on a single smartphone/tablet for its employees. IT’s policy on locking down their enterprise mobile device of choice will continue to prompt users to carry multiple devices.

Mobile videoconferencing can potentially support a wide variety of business solutions, from retail point-of-sale to hospitality, banking, healthcare, manufacturing or any custom business application. It will increasingly support  team collaboration across the entire value chain to shorten decision making time and enable immediate knowledge sharing.

In today’s context, the main use case for mobile videoconferencing in the enterprise remains remote employee interaction – for the mobile workforce or for employees who need a visual collaboration feature to ensure the “personal touch” during the call. Additionally, mobile videoconferencing offers an extension of traditional room-based and desktop based videoconferencing and leverages existing videoconferencing investments by extending the reach to the mobile user.

In planning a mobility strategy, enterprises should increasingly look at the full spectrum of devices which include smartphones and tablets along with laptops. Providing secure communications on a broad array of devices will be essential. Additionally, users will increasingly look at extending the Unified Communications experience to their mobile devices.

At the very outset, small-scale pilots would provide a good insight into typical usage stats. Mobile videoconferencing needs to be cost-justified, prior to deployment. All the key stakeholders must look at the network as a critical component in the process – developments in LTE and 4G in general, would be key to the success of mobile videoconferencing.

What do you think?

Also check out James Brehm’s blog on mobile video here.

WebRTC

Avaya Ventures into a Virtual Reality

On February 10th, Avaya launched a new on-demand, cloud-based option of its immersive web collaboration platform Avaya web.alive. The platform is available both as a premises-based solution and a SaaS offering, the latter being the focus of the new announcement, along with some new features and capabilities.

This new solution presents a virtual reality, which, in some ways, resembles the virtual event platforms (such as those offered by ON24, InXpo and Unisfair) but uses avatars and game-like tools and experiences, more similar to Second Life. I’ve heard some define the “traditional” (only in the context of this fast-evolving space) virtual platforms as virtual events and the likes of Second Life – as virtual environments. The monikers don’t matter much, but there are some differences, which we intend to tackle in more detail in a forthcoming study.

It’s great that Avaya is offering a free web-based demo. Anyone can try the environment at  http://avayalive.com/tryit. It will be beneficial for end users to experience this unique, advanced technology first-hand before considering a full-fledged deployment or even a serious pilot. As an analyst, I was privileged to have several sessions with the Avaya team, but I am hearing that there is almost always someone in there who can help random visitors find their way through the different tools and functionalities.

For me, who’s never (NEVER) played any computer games or experienced 3D, doesn’t like Sci-Fi (didn’t even fully appreciate Avatar or The Matrix),… (the list goes on, but you get the idea) … this was both a thrilling and somewhat distracting experience. I did not take the time to test the environment before the pre-launch and ventured into it with a male avatar. Of course, I heard little from the presentation in the first few minutes because I was busy changing my gender and choosing my facial features and clothes to wear.

The next challenge was finding my way around the environment and learning how to control my avatar using the mouse and keypad. Eventually, I found myself standing all by myself in front of the speaker with my head spinning in different directions trying to find the best viewpoint. Somehow, using a 3-rd person view, with my avatar still proudly standing in front of the whole crowd, I managed to get my eyesight so low that I was staring upwards into people’s … well, lower backs. Toward the end of the event, though, I was boldly strolling around the environment, magically walking through people and furniture. And shouting. Until I realized it was not a good idea, because others could hear me without me noticing they were there.

I’ll end the story here and just briefly summarize what I liked and what I would wish to see improved going forward.

The things I liked:

  • Such virtual environments are fun! It makes you giddy to design your persona (without the help of cosmetic surgery) and watch yourself from a third person point of view (there must be a split-personality tendency in all of us).
  • You do get the impression that you are “meeting” with people in a quasi-realistic social environment, unlike the sensation one gets using more “traditional” conferencing tools.
  • I liked seeing the pictures of the people I was close by or talking to, in addition to their oversexed avatars.
  • I really liked the presentation and collaboration capabilities. I was able to easily share my desktop and saw demonstrations of video feeds and slide presentations.
  • I like the fact that there are private rooms and people can have meetings behind closed doors. Only authenticated users have access to these rooms, but they can authenticate others. Once you are inside the room and the door is closed, no one else can hear the conversation OR see into the room.
  • Also, a group engaged in a more private conversation in the public area can use a whisper mode, which is not audible to those at a greater distance but does not degrade the quality of the conversation for the main parties.
  • Regardless of my “mishaps” facetiously recounted above, the environment is fairly intuitive and does not take a whole lot of learning to be able to navigate through it.
  • I have to give credit to the Avaya people, too – they offered help and were prepared to patiently address all kinds of questions.
  • From a business point of view, this solution has tremendous advantages as a web-based, on-demand platform. It is easy to deploy and use, even for small businesses, and is quite cost-effective at $49/month for a single account holder and up to 8 people attending at any given time.
  • The platform also offers analytics tools that can help businesses assess the value they are receiving from enhanced collaboration.

What I would want to see improved:

  • These visual environments can be very distracting. I heard people saying the virtual experience helped them avoid multi-tasking. In fact, I noticed I was more focused on what was taking place on the screen, but was it really the RIGHT thing on the screen I was watching/doing? I found myself checking people out (some were wearing funky outfits), rather than watching the slides. Maybe there should be a way for the speaker or person managing the event to help/force attendees to focus on the presentation screens whenever appropriate? I would not propose a dress code – that would be taking it too far J
  • There need to be some additional privacy options. I discussed the private rooms in the section above, but I believe there should be a way to “encapsulate” people who wish to have a more private conversation in the public area. I imagine, visually it could be something like the Avaya Flare spotlight. In a real-life environment, such as in a typical conference facility, people always complain there aren’t enough meeting rooms and end up looking for these two-armchairs-and-a-table isolated areas in the hotel corridors to have a private chat. At a cocktail party, people use facial expressions and body language to keep unwanted parties out of their private conversation. But the virtual environment needs different tools. I am told that users can see who’s within listening area by watching the number next to an ear icon at the bottom of the screen. But people tend to get distracted or too engaged in a conversation to pay attention. So they need to be able to take precautions.
  • Changing your voice, gesturing and other functions are only a right-click away. But I would want to see them in a menu bar – similar to a browser or Microsoft Office experience. It’s all about familiar, user-friendly interfaces, right?
  • There needs to be an option to mute everybody (for both the organizers and the attendees), except the speaker. It is distracting when people are chatting around you. Is it like real life? Yes, but we always try to improve real life, don’t we?
  • You have to hit Escape to be able to use some of the Options and to do other things on your desktop. It becomes bothersome, if you still want to do some multi-tasking.
  • If you have a slow DSL or cable connection, the audio can get garbled. (I had the rare luck to have my Internet service switched to a new provider right in the middle of the launch!)
  • Training, training, training!! Yes, it is intuitive; yes, younger generations will figure it out quickly and enjoy it. But for effective business use across different generations and types of users, organizations adopting this tool will need to strongly encourage employees to attend demos and brief training sessions. I have been told that Avaya does offer training. I think customers should not underestimate the value of a proper introduction to the new tool and ensure employees become familiar with key features and functionalities to avoid disappointment and misuse.

Go ahead and try it and let me know what you think. But don’t forget to mute yourself (press M on your keyboard) as you enter the environment or else someone can overhear your business conversations, kids shouting or dogs barking.

Are there other similar platforms you like better? Why?

WebRTC

Unified Communications: Where do we Go from Here?

Finally! It’s done!

After several  months of hard work, we have now completed the update of our World Unified Communications (UC) Markets study. The reason why I feel like celebrating (more so than after any other study) is because this market presents some unique challenges. Typically, we discuss and analyze markets by product or service category – e.g. the enterprise telephony platforms market, the enterprise media gateway market, the videoconferencing endpoint market, etc. But unified communications is all about … well, unification … that is, application integration. At the risk of repeating myself and stating what may be the obvious for some, here is how we define UC:

“Frost & Sullivan defines a unified communications application as an integrated set of voice, data and video communications, all of which leverage PC- and telephony-based presence information. UC applications are meant to simplify communications for the end user by making it easy to “click to communicate.” A unified communications application must contain the following:

  • PC-based presence (online or offline)
  • Telephony presence (on the phone or available for a call)
  • Point-to-point voice calling
  • Chat (i.e., instant messaging)
  • Audio conferencing
  • Web collaboration (application, file, and desktop sharing)
  • PC-based video
  • Find-me/Follow-me capabilities (for call routing)
  • Unified messaging

A unified communications application may include the following:

  • Mobile client
  • APIs for easy integration with other applications
  • Social networking capabilities
  • Wikis/blogs
  • Integration with room-based video conferencing
  • GPS or other location information”

The past couple of years were challenging for communications vendors as the recession forced many businesses to suspend or delay investments in communications technologies. Tighter budgets limited the penetration of most UC applications. The telephony market was one of the hardest hit, as most vendors experienced double-digit year-over-year revenue declines. Conferencing applications and services fared better, as they allowed businesses to reduce travel costs while enabling virtual workers to communicate and collaborate more efficiently. Even conferencing markets, however, experienced increased price pressures, with the impact of the recession being most severe in conferencing endpoint markets and in the more mature audio conferencing services markets.

In 2009, UC vendors focused primarily on penetrating the market with advanced UC clients. IM and email vendors aggressively upgraded their customers to UC-capable IM clients and architectures. Similarly, telephony vendors bundled advanced softphones capable of integrating with IM clients and conferencing platforms with the rest of their telephony solutions to encourage adoption. While these vendor strategies help increase user familiarity with software-centric communications and their benefits, they are not strongly correlated with investments in the rest of the infrastructure required for a complete UC implementation. Customers deploying softphones from their telephony vendors did not always purchase the conferencing and/or IM/presence servers. Similarly, many customers who purchased Microsoft’s OCS Enterprise CALs did not choose to use OCS voice or to integrate OCS with the corporate telephony system.

Overall, we do not believe UC will be a big revenue source for the vendors (which is great news for customers!) That said, we believe it is here to stay. Vendors will give away UC clients to drive adoption of various advanced communications solutions – conferencing, collaboration, mobility – as well as telephony and IM infrastructure refresh. As business users become increasingly used to the convenience of certain UC capabilities such as soft clients, conferencing capabilities that are only a click away, affordable video, and so on, it will be difficult to take those away from them.

But who should customers turn to for their UC capabilities? There is no single right answer, of course. Two distinct business models have emerged: on-stop shops and best-of-breed integrations.

For SMBs, all-in-one appliances or application stacks are probably most appealing. However, few vendors are capable of offering, on their own, all the required functionality and features in the UC stack. Either the telephony component is still missing critical elements (such as E911), or the IM clients are not very feature-rich, or some other capability is lacking.

Larger customers with multi-vendor environments are better off selecting the specific applications that best meet their needs and then engaging their own (typically more extensive) internal staff or outsourcing the professional services expertise to integrate those capabilities in an end-to-end UC environment. Limited vendor interoperability along with scarce UC expertise will present some serious challenges to this approach in the near term but will become less of a concern in the future.  Growing adoption of SIP and SOA and application enablement technologies, and vendor strategies focused on contextually-rich communications and communications-enabled business processes will have a major impact on vendor interoperability and will eliminate a great portion of the hassle and cost related to application integration and UC implementation.

Generally, UC adoption may remain limited to specific user groups (e.g. knowledge workers, marketing and sales people) for the next few years, until business models make it compelling for the average communications user to own a UC solution even if they are not using all of its capabilities and not benefiting as much as the early adopters.

Here are some recommendations to end users considering UC:

  • Businesses should leverage their communications investment to gain a competitive advantage and should make new technology acquisitions with their key strategic objectives in mind.
  • Vendors are engaged in a more fierce competition than ever before. Customers can exploit this opportunity to require exceptional value for their money.
  • Customers need to future-proof their investment. They should seek to deploy open and flexible standards-based technologies. Further, they should demand extensive education and training on features and integration capabilities to ensure that they can easily switch among or integrate multi-vendor solutions.
  • Customers should pay attention to their vendors’ and channel partners’ overall financial stability. The recession has weakened a lot of market participants and growing competition will further jeopardize their viability.
  • Customers need to restructure internally to ensure they gain maximum value from their IT and telecom investments. They must ensure cooperation between the telecom and IT teams so they can effectively coordinate new investments and ongoing infrastructure management.
  • Finally, customers should explore alternative delivery models (e.g. managed services, hosted solutions, etc.).

For more information on our study, please contact me at epopova@frost.com or review related material on our web site at http://www.frost.com/srch/content-search.do?srchid=194001017.

Mitel Enhances its UC and Collaboration Portfolio

Today, September 23, 2009, Mitel announced significant enhancements to its Unified Communicator Advanced (its core UC application) and TeleCollaboration solutions (see press release here).  

Unified Communicator Advanced (UC Advanced) release 3.0 features capabilities such as dynamic status, integration flexibility, a launchpad for Web and applications access, knowledge management and context-driven communications, among other new or enhanced functionalities. 

The dynamic status capability allows users to dynamically manage their extension in terms of specifying a user’s status with regard to various messages, presence and call routing. It also enables users to treat certain communications preferentially based on user-selected criteria. Finally, it allows users to remotely manage their status. 

Further, Mitel’s UC Advanced solution now integrates with Microsoft Office, IBM Lotus Notes and UCA APIs. Calls can be launched from Internet Explorer, Word, Outlook, IBM Lotus Notes or the user’s calendar.  

The knowledge management capability provides call recipients with information about callers such as recent emails, contact entries and exchanged documents. 

The launchpad allows users to launch Mitel applications from a single access point. Individual contacts can be called with a single mouse click, including creating speed dials that navigate voicemail and conference service menus. 

Context-driven communications is another valuable addition. It enables screen pops providing the called party with information about the subject and call priority. It also displays a picture of the caller and allows the user to respond via IM.

Mitel Series X Context-driven Communications

Mitel Series X Context-driven Communications

 Source: Mitel

Some other UC Advanced enhancements include visual voicemail, secure instant  messaging, RSS feeds, easy audio and web conference initiation through the desktop, etc. 

The UC Advanced solution scales from small to very large enterprise and can support up to 5,000 users on a single server.  

Mitel’s TeleCollaboration solution release 1.5 features integrated video and collaboration capabilities, low bandwidth requirements and high tolerance, and greater simplicity compared to competitor solutions. It offers browser-based collaboration and the ability to participate from anywhere, as well as session and snapshot recording.  

Mitel TeleCollaboration

Mitel TeleCollaboration

Source: Mitel

With these technology enhancements Mitel is seeking to address some current business challenges such as the increasingly diverse, geographically dispersed and mobile enterprise workforce and the need to manage multiple communication media for greater productivity and efficiency. A plethora of advanced UC and collaboration solutions offered by communication vendors are looking to address the same business needs and challenges. Yet, Mitel has remained at the forefront of technology innovation. While most of the new capabilities are not entirely unique, they are very much in line with industry trends and match or exceed those offered by its competitors. My personal favorites are the knowledge management and context-driven communications capabilities. We frequently go through multiple emails and documents in order to prepare ourselves for a call with a colleague, customer or partner. The tighter integration of such resources into the communication process seems to have the potential to greatly enhance user convenience and productivity. I also believe that the integration of video conferencing with collaboration (file sharing, etc.) is a valuable feature that provides users with a more comprehensive collaborative experience. 

What also makes Mitel unique is its consistent focus on the SMB market and its relatively strong competitive position in this space. When combined with the rest of its communication portfolio, these solutions can provide SMBs with capabilities typically available to large businesses only. Given Mitel’s efforts to gain greater penetration into the larger business space, the scalability of these solutions along with the rich functionality provide Mitel with an opportunity to more successfully move upstream as well.

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