Serious excitement surrounds the SMB (small to medium-size business) video conferencing space these days. In June and July alone, no fewer than eight companies – 8x8, Blue Jeans Network, BroadSoft, InFocus, LifeSize, Polycom, Telesphere and Vidtel – announced new hardware, services, tie-ups or some combination thereof. All of the announcements represented significant investments of time, effort and resources. And together, they indicated a widespread optimism that the market is about to take off.
Even in pre-takeoff mode, though, the market has already spawned a hefty body of conventional wisdom. Most of it takes the form of ardent convictions surrounding clouds and interoperability. One of these is the belief that cloud solutions are the ideal way to meet almost every SMB video conferencing need. A related one is faith that providing interoperability is the surest route to success for cloud providers. A new VoIP Evolution report, SMB Video Conferencing: Getting Beyond Clouds & Interoperability, both explains why it's necessary to get beyond such conventional wisdom, and provides a method for doing so.
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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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From the viewpoint of video communication, two of the most interesting startups at the just-ended TechCrunch Disrupt conference didn't present on stage. Rather, they had displays in the "Startup Alley" area that attendees passed through on the way to the presentation hall. Significantly, both involved non-real-time video communication. Both also worked through Web browsers, Web cams and e-mail rather than through specialized software or equipment. As such, they highlighted one of the most prominent trends in video communication: the push for simplicity, ease of use, flexibility and breadth of availability.
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From the start, TokBox had real possibilities as a communication tool for small businesses and individual entrepreneurs. The free service offered users the ability to make video calls to one another using just a browser, Web cam and perhaps headset (to decrease echo). Initially, though, the San Francisco startup seemed more interested in appealing to consumer than business users. Now TokBox has moved to exploit its business potential. A newly announced tie-up combines its video conferencing service with the equally easy-to-use online document-sharing service of EtherPad.
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