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6/28/2011
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Enterprise, Consumer Video Conferencing Converge

Skype, Google Talk, and other consumer systems can connect with corporate-grade video conferencing systems from Cisco, Polycom, and others via Blue Jeans Network's cloud-based service.

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Start-up Blue Jeans Network has achieved what other meet-me video conference services have not yet done: connect participants in large corporate-style video conference rooms with participants on consumer-based systems such as Google Talk and Skype. The Silicon Valley-based Blue Jeans, funded by $23 million in venture capital and begun in stealth mode a year and a half ago, officially opened for business Wednesday.

The Blue Jeans service will be based in the cloud, said co-founder and CEO Krish Ramarkrishnan. Subscribers will be charged a certain amount of money for a specific number of minutes per month, just like a wireless phone plan. A subscriber organizing a meeting will send an email to participants noting the time and date of the meeting plus a link to join. At the appropriate time, participants will join the meeting.

The beauty of Blue Jeans, Ramarkrishnan said, is that participants can appear in the video conference on just about any video device, a laptop connected to Skype, a smartphone using Google Talk, or someone using one of the many room-sized video conference rooms from vendors such as Polycom, Cisco Systems, or LifeSize. In a pinch, someone can call in from a desk phone.

Blue Jeans does video transcoding in the cloud delivering the signal and resolution appropriate for each endpoint device.

"Your video, your device, your way," Ramarkrishnan said.

Blue Jeans technology is noteworthy because it supports the H.323 industry standard for room-based video conference systems with commonly used Internet and webcam systems like Skype and Google Talk, said Andrew Davis, a senior analyst and co-founder of Wainhouse Research.

"The vast majority, maybe 95%, of room video systems that are in service today on the part of enterprises support H.323 and now you have the ability through Blue Jeans to use your room system and talk to your mobile workers who are travelling and using Skype or to a customer or a business partner using Skype," said Davis.

The Skype support is significant because Skype has more than 170 million users that used up 207 billion minutes of voice and video calls in 2010. Skype is in the business of being acquired by Microsoft, which is expected to incorporate it into its unified communications services platforms.

Blue Jeans is meant to "democratize" video conferencing, said Stu Aaron, chief commercial officer for the firm.

Right now, if a company is limited to using its room videoconference system, people who aren't in one of the rooms and call in by phone "are on the dark end of a phone line as a second class citizen," Aaron said. Because they can't be seen on the conference screen, they play less of a role in the meeting because they are literally and figuratively invisible. If that caller can join the conference from a laptop or tablet device, they can be seen and heard.

Video conferencing systems are underutilized because they are complicated to use, existing systems are proprietary and, thus, not interoperable, and expensive, said Ramarkrishnan. Someone using a Polycom system can't meet with someone using a Cisco system. Another video conference provider, Vidyo, does offer technology to connect meeting participants joining from a variety of end points on room systems, HD TVs, laptops, and smartphones, but it does what it calls scalable video coding on the network, so that's proprietary, too, he said.

By enabling multi-vendor, multi-device, and multi-party service, Blue Jeans hopes to narrow the divide between audio-conferencing and video-conferencing usage. Citing Wainhouse research, the company said there were 80 billion audio conferencing minutes used in 2010 compared to only 200 million video conferencing minutes.

"Anywhere video conferencing is the dial tone that lets these incompatible islands be bridged together," said Aaron.

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