VIDEO CONFERENCING: Shaping a sharper future
What shift in the market has prompted Tata Communications and PCCW Global to launch high-definition video conferencing services within a week of each other?
The drive towards high-definition (HD) video conferencing has been making significant headway in 2013.
While services from over-the-top (OTT) providers such as Skype and Apple’s FaceTime have dominated the consumer market, no real equivalent service has yet been able to so successfully capture the high-end enterprise segment.
Launched within the same week of July this year, PCCW and Tata Communications have gone head-to-head with two services geared to make HD video conferencing far simpler to operate.
They both claim to have overcome one of the major pitfalls of previous HD video conferencing services by eliminating the need to reserve a call time.
PCCW first began offering HD video conferencing in January 2011, when it struck a partnership with Kenya Data Networks to offer the service between Hong Kong, Kenya and the UK.
Since then, the company has worked on simplifying its offering. Neil Templeton, VP of strategic marketing at PCCW Global, told Capacity that PCCW’s latest High Definition Video Calling service is essentially designed to allow users to speak to one another without the hassle, set-up time, or exchange of conference codes usually required in existing services.
Unlike similar services, PCCW’s offering runs over the company’s private network, which Templeton says provides a secure, managed class of service. “What enterprises are increasingly demanding is this high-quality, high-definition video where there’s crystal clear sound and vision, where it doesn’t drop and you don’t get any delay, and it’s all run over a private network,” he says.
The service is largely aimed at its enterprise customer base, but Templeton also sees substantial opportunity for its carrier customers.
“We see video and video conferencing as really driving the future traffic and revenue streams of carriers,” he says.
In the long term, PCCW is looking to enable carriers to interconnect with one another and trade high-value switched video minutes in the same way they trade voice minutes. Templeton eventually hopes this will help carriers increase traffic and enhance interconnection.
“Any carrier that’s interconnected into this will be able to reach any end point of any other carrier that is interconnected, so it will really help to quickly extend their video products,” says Templeton.
The company is working with its parent company Hong Kong Telecom on the service, and is also reportedly in discussions with a range of carriers regarding collaboration. In this respect, the success of the service will be very much reliant on building a critical network of carriers willing to interconnect.
It could be jamvee’s tomorrow
In direct competition with PCCW’s offering is Tata’s jamvee. The service operates across Tata’s private network, and the company has infrastructure on four continents with a view to supporting all potential combinations of end points.
It is delivered across what Tata claims to be the world’s only fibre-optic cable ring around the globe and, much like PCCW’s offering, is designed to allow a more streamlined video conferencing experience.
“The space we were trying to hit was something with the convenience of a reservation-less service which allows an over-the-top connection, but that can also support a wide variety of enterprise clients as well as connection from a corporate network,” says Peter Quinlan, Tata's VP for Integrated Business Video Services.
Such a dedicated connection from a corporate network is a major differentiator in the market. According to Quinlan, many OTT players are not able to provide this level of support. Neither are they able to deliver a high quality of experience on an immersive system.
“If you look at most reservation-less systems, they’ll have limitations around support for high-end telepresence rooms,” he says. “We support those with the full experience customers would expect, and we support everything down to the soft client,” he says.
A further market differentiator for jamvee is its soft client, says Quinlan, which is offered to users at no charge. It is designed to run on whatever application the user wants, be it Windows, MAC or iOS, and will allow them access to the conference bridge.
“We felt that it’s kind of an imperfect world. People are at various stages and the client or enterprise may not have a software version that supports the personal device that the customer is using,” Quinlan explains.
“But to round off the edges and give people an alternative that they know is going to work, we offer the soft client.”
Competition in the ranks
Both PCCW and Tata appear to be delivering the same message to the industry: that there is a gap in the market for a high-quality, high-definition, secure service run over a private network
Neither believes that services delivered by the likes of Skype and Apple – although welcome additions to the overall video conferencing space – compare to the high-quality, business-specific services they are providing.
Quinlan does not, however, think it will be long before others tap into the HD video conferencing market.
“I think as you look into this space [HD video], you’ll see competition broadening on several fronts,” he says. “Not just from OTT players, but web conferencing providers are also rapidly adding video to their services, as are audio conferencing providers, which have traditionally sold web looking to see how they can add video. It’s going to be an exciting space to watch in the coming years, or months even.”
There are opportunities for carriers to support both consumer-facing video conferencing services and the high-end HD enterprise ones.
“Having a corporate, high-quality service run over a private infrastructure, and also a public service that runs over the public internet ... there’s room in the market for both,” says Quinlan.
Quinlan does warn, however, that competing with OTT players in the small-medium-enterprises (SMEs) space could prove tough for carriers. In most markets Tata – like many other Tier 1 carriers – does not have the marketing channels to target SMEs.
“Not all carriers would be competing with all OTT players; it would really vary market-by-market,” he says.
Concentrating on cost
Cost has traditionally hindered the widespread adoption of hybrid video conferencing services such as telepresence – a lesson not lost on either PCCW or Tata. Quinlan notes that Tata has made a concerted effort to drive down the pricing model for its jamvee service, particularly on an international level.
“We’re really not charging anywhere close to the pricing we used to for a scheduled telepresence interaction,” he explains. “And people also have the advantage of joining a video call from virtually any device.”
This flexibility adds to the service’s cost-effectiveness, allowing customers to connect in more places than ever before.
“It avoids travel and also allows you to have a much richer interaction,” Quinlan adds.
PCCW’s Templeton agrees: “If I think of the amount of travel that I do, and the amount of travel I would have to do if I didn’t use video conferencing, we’re saving a significant amount of cost by just using video.”
This ability to speak to people in different regions, countries and continents, several times a day, with the clarity of a face-to-face meeting, could have an enormous impact on the industry. The removal of a multipoint control unit (MCU) in both Tata and PCCW’s offerings further reduces the cost, as well as the hassle of setting up calls, and was a major focus area for both companies.
“It’s very cost-effective for the operator as well, because he doesn’t have to invest in an MCU to manage this video conferencing,” Quinlan says.
The MCU is an endpoint on a LAN which enables three or more terminals to participate in a multipoint conference, a paid-for service utilised across the globe.
“What you have here is the ability to do it with the equipment you’ve got,” Quinlan says.
IPX provides an edge
With the prospect of a move to an HD era in the video conferencing market, carriers are already looking at how to develop services further.
Capacity’s groundbreaking C100 survey, carried out earlier this year, found IPX to be the most popular area of innovation for 2013, and it could play a substantial role in the future of HD video conferencing.
As carriers interconnect via IPX for voice services, Templeton sees an opportunity for IPX to also support video services.
“All of those interconnects will be able to support video as well, so would be able to run video over IPX at the same time,” he says.
“The growth of the IPX market is something we expect to grow over the next three to four years, with LTE and mobile operators interconnecting via IPX for all our services.”