Video conferencing was a lot more interesting to watch in 2011 than was VoIP. It wasn't that nothing happened in VoIP during the year. It was just that a lot more happened in video conferencing. This was especially true in the SMB space. Early summer saw a slew of significant announcements from vendors and providers. These announcements figured prominently in the VoIP Evolution report "SMB Video Conferencing: Getting Beyond Clouds & Interoperability."
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Cisco's recently introduced cloud TelePresence offering considerably complicates life for small to medium-size businesses (SMBs) shopping for video conferencing solutions. On one hand, it adds an impressive new option to the list of available products. On the other, it increases the number of questions companies must answer before making their purchasing decisions. In short, while the introduction broadens the range of choices for SMBs looking to use video conferencing on a regular basis, it also makes their decision-making process more difficult.
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After starting as the year of HD voice, 2010 ended as the year of video communication. Video in fact became so prominent that it earned a place in the title of this list. Announcements about new video communication products and services were so numerous they became routine. As the year progressed, it became clear that video conferencing/calling was no longer a luxury for the corporate and government elite, but was well on the way to becoming a commodity for the masses. Ordinary individuals will soon be making video calls with little more thought than they now give to picking up a telephone. Making that happen, however, will be a complex challenge for vendors and service providers.
A variety of other factors shaped voice and visual communication during the year. Chief among these were developments in mobile VoIP and video calling, along with an acceleration of the move to cloud-based voice services. Politics and the weather played unusually high-profile roles as well. So did the negative: Unlike last year, not all the important developments were advances – some were downright problematic. But even the negative developments had some constructive aspects. Skype of course figured prominently in many of the developments. So pervasive was the influence of the Internet VoIP pioneer that it seemed that the corporate slogan of "Skype Everywhere" applied to its appearances in headlines as well.
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The recent unconfirmed report that Cisco was interested in buying Skype got a lot of attention. Many analysts and pundits pronounced the idea a good one. They pontificated about how Skype service could complement Cisco products and services. Some focused on video communication as well as voice synergies. Few, however, mentioned the fundamental long-term threat Skype poses to Cisco's video conferencing business – and not just Skype, but any Internet-based video communication service. That threat will only grow as time passes. Acquiring Skype could help Cisco cope with the threat.
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The coming explosion of video conferencing will bring enterprises a lot of benefits. Employees will communicate better with each other, and eventually with employees of other enterprises. Savings on travel costs will be substantial. But the trend will also bring a lot of headaches. Chief among these will be an explosion of bandwidth needed to carry all the video traffic. A new effort by Polycom aims to halve the bandwidth video conferencing will require. Coincidentally, the company is introducing a more modestly priced immersive telepresence system as well.
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