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The Perfect Storm of Telepresence, Part 1

Telepresence—video communication that incorporates audio, visual, and physical elements of a meeting room environment to create an immersive experience—is an exploding application market, according to Michael Brandofino, president and CEO of Glowpoint.

The Perfect Storm of Telepresence, Part 1

Jul 10, 2008 11:19 AM,
By John DeWitt

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Telepresence—video communication that incorporates audio, visual, and physical elements of a meeting room environment to create an immersive experience—is an exploding application market, according to Michael Brandofino, president and CEO of Glowpoint, a Hillside, N.J.-based provider of managed video communications services. Glowpoint recently announced its Telepresence Exchange Network (TEN), which supports telepresence video calls between companies on different networks and enables video calls to existing conference room and desktop environments. Sound &Video Contractor spoke with Brandofino this week about the perfect storm of factors driving the proliferation of telepresence and video communications in general.

SVC: In your recently published Glowpoint white paper, The Role of Managed Services for Telepresence, you cite figures from IDC and Cisco indicating that the “worldwide revenue opportunity for telepresence is projected to be $5 billion (U.S.) by 2011, with the largest portion of the revenue ($3.8 billion) driven by network and managed service revenues.” What are some of the factors driving the growth of this market?

Michael Brandofino: The market is huge for telepresence. I’ve been in this space for what feels like forever, and I’ve never seen an uptake of a technology and a vision in the space as I have for telepresence. We have this perfect storm that’s coming into play—and add to that a huge player like Cisco that’s pouring tons of marketing money into the space.

Explain what you mean by “a perfect storm.”

Brandofino: The perfect storm includes factors such as companies globalizing to complete, economies being challenged around the world, concern about global warming and the high cost of business travel, fear of terrorism, and the workforce becoming very used to and comfortable with technology. In particular, employees are now very comfortable with video—there’s a whole generation that has grown up being in front of cameras, so it’s not a problem sitting in a meeting and talking on camera. All those factors create this perfect storm of opportunity for video communications.

Your announcement of the Telepresence Exchange Network talks about connecting “islands of video.” Explain what this means. What are the challenges that must be overcome to enable growth of telepresence, and video communications more generally?

Brandofino: Telepresence is the culmination of how videoconferencing technology is supposed to work. But it’s also exposing some challenges that video industry has had from the beginning. No communications tool has ever been successful without a fairly sophisticated service provider environment in the background. For example, what if I had to figure out what type of protocol was required to text message your Sprint cell phone from my AT&T phone? That’s kind of the challenge we have in the video space. You have expensive equipment, but to communicate to other companies on other networks, you need to figure out what network protocols you have, are you behind the firewall, does your video equipment talk to mine? That impedes technology adoption and usage.

Glowpoint is about breaking down the barriers between islands of video. TEN is an extension of what we did from the beginning, which is to come as close as possible to allowing customers to just place a call without worrying about the technology.

Explain how TEN helps to connect “islands of video.”

Brandofino: With the advent of telepresence, there are a couple of complicating factors. The interconnect needs to be high quality because you’re talking about high bandwidth – 15 megabits for each telepresence room. Then you have the issue of different telepresence standards. For instance, Cisco has recently entered the market in a huge way, but Cisco created its own standard that doesn’t talk with Polycom and other networks.

TEN is the umbrella around our offerings in support of telepresence and interconnectivity. Right now we can support company-to-company telepresence—any Glowpoint customer can talk to any other Glowpoint customer. Then we have customers that have gone with telepresence and want to be able to include non-telepresence video rooms in their meetings, so we can pull that in through a multipoint bridge. Right now, we can connect Tanberg and Polycom telepresence system, and ultimately, we will be able to do that with Cisco. Cisco has not made that capability available yet—the company has so far limited to what people can develop to their codec.

Our roadmap for TEN is to provide the ability to register telepresence rooms on the global network, and also tap into the growing cottage industry of rental telepresence rooms. The ability to do that is challenging, but we see ourselves as a really good middleman for making this take place.

Describe the focus of Glowpoint’s business.Brandofino: Our business is managed video services. We provide an unlimited managed network service. Your company brings in a Glowpoint circuit, you put the router in, attach video end points, and have unlimited use for video calls. This represents about 68 percent of our business. Providing multipoint bridging services—delivering the “Brady Bunch look” with four or five people on the screen—is about 18 percent of our business. Supporting broadcasting and special events—such as Sports Center, NBA, and NFL drafts—are 8 to 9 percent of our business.

Now we’re adding a new component, VNOC services—Video or Virtual Network Operations Center services that support telepresence rooms. We recently won a contract to provide a Polycom-branded VNOC service, because Polycom’s customers have been spending money on these telepresence rooms but find they’re having tough time managing them with in-house expertise. We’re also providing VNOC via a third party for Cisco customers.

In the next issue of Corporate AV, Part 2 of our interview with Brandofino will explore the emerging video communications opportunities that telepresence creates for AV integrators in the corporate space.

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