If there was one “Year Of” category in 2011, it would be the emergence of group video conferencing offerings. Skype started off the year by announcing the release of Skype Group Video Calling – up to ten participants using Skype video and audio technology with a cost of $8.99 per month (or lower on 3- and 12-month subscriptions that include Live Chat and U.S./Canada SkypeOut). Meantime vendors such as Cisco, Polycomm, InFocus and LifeSize (a Logitech company) have evolved their video conferencing offerings with the result that a business can end up with a “closed” service that limits their video calling contacts.
To overcome this barrier Vidtel, with a history of video calling experience, has launched MeetMe, a cloud-based open video conference hosting service. End points can be any of Cisco (E-20, Telepresence MXP 1700), Polycomm, Lifesize video conference systems or real time communications softphone clients such as Skype (including iPhone and iPad), GTalk and CounterPath’s Bria. During a demonstration call the various participants were a mixture of these end points.
Personally I joined this call from Skype for Windows; the Skype integration is still in beta. Issues with respect to maintaining the correct aspect ratio when viewed on Skype are yet to be resolved. On the other hand, Andy Abramson sent me what he was seeing at a Cisco E20 video phone. (Click on the Skype image to enlarge to see the various endpoints on the call.)
Vidtel is selling the service through video and audio conferencing resellers with both fixed rate and per minute pricing plans. It is targeted at businesses with 20 to a few hundred employees who need to deal with suppliers and customers on different video calling endpoints.
Recently I have mentioned that tablets with the iPad format are candidates to become the default platform for a desktop video phone. At last week’s ShowStoppers event during CES CounterPath announced support for video calling on its Bria for iPhone softphone while demonstrating versions for iPad and Android forthcoming by the end of January.
Lending credence to Vidtel’s offering CounterPath and Vidtel today announced an interoperability agreement to provide small-to-medium enterprises with a low cost, high quality enterprise grade video conferencing option using Bria for PC’s and mobile devices. According to the press release:
Interoperability between Vidtel and Bria allows SMEs and other customers to:
- Participate in video conferences from hotel rooms, airports, home offices, coffee shops, client facilities and other remote locations with mobile devices.
- Enter a video conference room using the already familiar methods of simply dialing a phone number, PBX extension or SIP address (eliminating the need to add a contact/buddy or learn the unique requirements of third-party services).
- Achieve high video conference quality by using SIP-based native interoperability rather than transcoding.
With its multi-platform support this agreement is contributing to a trend where we’ll be taking business voice and video calls on not only “traditional” desktop phones but also increasingly on mobile devices and PC’s. Rogers One Number service, which also uses CounterPath technology, provides another example.
Bottom line: Vidtel MeetMe certainly provides an initial glimpse into interoperability across video conferencing vendors. It supports the major players in this space. On the other hand it’s an emerging technology. For instance, as one who has participated in a weekly Skype Group Video call, the Vidtel audio quality, while acceptable, is noticeably narrowband, as confirmed by the Skype Call Technical Info window, whereas Skype Group Video supports its SILK audio technology providing a much crisper, clearer audio. And one issue to be addressed before coming out of beta with Skype as an end point is to get the aspect ratios correct.
On the other hand for businesses that have invested in one particular vendor for video conferencing, it provides an very viable path for small to medium business to hold video conferences with their business partners, whether suppliers, customers and/or contractors without concern for the video conferencing technology being employed at each endpoint.
Update: Check out Andy Abramson’s post: CounterPath, Vidtel Marry Up for Portable Video Conferencing:
While Skype and GoogleTalk are both interoperable with Vidtel, most enterprise size businesses don’t really “endorse” Skype or GoogleTalk or even the very simple-to-use Hangouts. With Vidtel’s MeetMe and the suite of CounterPath Bria clients, there’s now an enterprise ready, carrier grade and often approved softclient that can connect to a multi-standards based video conferencing bridging service so anyone can see and be seen. Add in the cost efficiences of both offerings, and all of a sudden the IT buyer has the budget for iPads or Android tablets and alot more software vs. those desk phones or room based video systems.