Vidyo Free Cloud Service Bridges Videoconferencing Systems

VidyoWay will let users of Cisco, Polycom, Lifesize, and Microsoft Lync talk to each other. In the meantime, Vidyo starts the conversation about how much better off they would be using its technology.
10 Social Acquisitions Signify Bigger Trends
10 Social Acquisitions Signify Bigger Trends
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In a gambit to get its foot in the door with more corporate videoconferencing users, Vidyo is launching a free service that does something other cloud services want to charge for: Bridging between otherwise incompatible videoconferencing technologies.

Vidyo's VidyoWay bears at least a superficial resemblance to the Blue Jeans Network cloud service, which functions as a cloud-based service that can mix video streams from multiple endpoints, including those that use different technologies.

Where Blue Jeans, Vidtel, and other services have built their core business around simplifying video communications and bridging between standards, Vidyo is positioning its version as a loss leader, a tool to "grow the market" for video communications by making video connections between different companies easier. On the other hand, VidyoWay is missing some features competitors offer, such as interconnectivity with Skype, and it is being introduced as a service that you have to request an invitation to, rather than one with a straightforward signup process.

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Vidyo promises "a simple, self-service, executive-friendly interface, VidyoWay connects Cisco, Polycom, Lifesize, other H.323 and SIP-based room systems, Microsoft Lync clients, mobile devices and telephones."

"Our service is going to be free, compared to expensive interconnectivity," Ashish Gupta, CMO and senior VP of corporate development at Vidyo, said in an interview. One purpose of the service is to provide interconnections with Vidyo's own portfolio of videoconferencing technologies. Vidyo is best known for pioneering the use of H.264 Scalable Video Coding, an emerging standard for efficient transmission of high-definition video, and for the software and VidyoRouter network appliances it has built on that basis. Google also based the Google+ Hangouts video chat service on Vidyo technology.

Although Vidyo hopes to attract attention to its other products through the VidyoWay service, Gupta said, "You do not have to purchase any kind of Vidyo product to use it. The reason we are doing this is to grow the marketplace and the usage within the marketplace." Too much expensive equipment is sitting idle, partly because the firms that own it find setting up video calls awkward, particularly calls between companies that might have standardized on equipment from different vendors. Even where videoconferencing vendors have made some efforts at interoperability, as Cisco and Polycom have done, setting up a multi-vendor video call "is complex and requires manual intervention, where you often have to call in an IT guy," Gupta said.

Vidyo announced improved Microsoft Lync integration in June and can plug in to other online collaboration platforms such as IBM Lotus Sametime and Adobe Connect. However, because the communications protocol it promotes is not yet widely adopted as a standard, it faces its own challenges with interoperability.

With VidyoWay, much of that complexity can be eliminated by having each videoconferencing site or each desktop videoconferencing participant dial into a common service that ties them all together. Again, this is much like the Blue Jeans model, making setting up a video call more like dialing in to an audio conferencing bridge line. However, since Blue Jeans charges by the minute, "there's a fair degree of friction in the way of people being able to connect," Gupta said. He quoted a Blue Jeans price schedule putting the fees at 30 to 50 cents per minute, although as of Monday afternoon the pricing page on the Blue Jeans website had been replaced by a "call for a quote" form.

"Imitation is certainly the sincerest form of flattery," James Matheson, VP of marketing for Blue Jeans Network, commented via email. "We're excited that Blue Jeans has grown to a market stature that people feel the need to position against us. As Vidyo is a closed, proprietary solution, it naturally makes sense that they would be under pressure to offer a gateway service to get off of their island. It's like an expensive hotel that offers a free shuttle from the airport." He suggested Vidyo would probably make the free service conditional on buying Vidyo products, which Vidyo says is not true. But certainly Vidyo is using this as a vehicle to promote its other products, whereas Matheson said, "We have no proprietary endpoints of our own to promote. We just provide any-to-any interoperability."

In addition to supporting a wide variety of videoconferencing endpoints, including Skype, Blue Jeans recently introduced a browser-based videoconferencing client that works without requiring any plugin downloads. The browser-based client is based on HTML5, so it requires one of the most current browsers, but works across operating systems and is intended to provide a lowest common denominator method of connectivity for joining a videoconference. Blue Jeans also continues to add support for more commercial clients, such as Cisco Jabber.

VidyoWay does not provide a browser client, but Vidyo does have an iPad app for it pending approval in Apple's app store and an Android app on the drawing board. Gupta said the mobile clients are intended to allow traveling executives to participate in an online corporate event. The service is intended to support bridging of otherwise incompatible systems, not for casual video calls from one iPad user to another. Gupta said the free service does have some "fair use" rules, so those who routinely misuse it could be politely shown the door, he said.

Gupta said it's not Vidyo's intention to undermine services such as Blue Jeans, only to support more pervasive use of videoconferencing. Also, because the VidyoWay bridging service is based on transcoding of feeds between videoconferencing systems, it's never going to be as efficient as a videoconference over Vidyo SVC technology. "When you have disparate user interface, disparate capabilities, you won't have a seamless experience," he said.

So at the same time that it promotes interoperability, Vidyo hopes to dramatize the distinctions between its technology and that of its competitors. In the process, it hopes to convince enterprises they can deploy Vidyo technology internally and still reserve the option of connecting to systems based on other standards and making business-to-business videoconferencing "more easily available to our end users," Gupta said.

Follow David F. Carr on Twitter @davidfcarr. The BrainYard is @thebyard and

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