The World Has Spoken: Telepresence is Still Dead

Michael Helmbrecht, VP & GM Video Solutions

In a world where technology is getting smaller, lighter and faster (think about the Zach Morris cell phone vs. your iPhone or bulky desktop computers vs. the MacBook Air), it’s a wonder to me that companies are still investing in three- and four-screen telepresence solutions to collaborate over video. The rest of the tech world has realized that smaller, faster and lighter is the way to go, but why hasn’t the video conferencing industry? Trends like BYOD are plunging ahead at the speed of light, smartphones are estimated to reach the billions in just three years and software-based solutions are more popular than ever. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, the days of the three-screen, bulky video conferencing solutions are over. Telepresence is dead.

Remember this Monty Python sketch? (Photo Courtesy of JeffVictor.blogspot.com)

Sorry, telepresence we hate to tell you, you are dead and we’ve got the numbers to prove it. Telepresence started the year with its worst showing in four years. Cisco’s results from last quarter showed another decrease in telepresence and since Cisco controls a large portion of this specific market, we think it’s safe to assume that this portends to a decline in the industry category as a whole. Honestly, is anybody surprised? Telepresence technology has always been outrageously expensive, inconvenient, impossible to scale and unnecessarily complex. When you are looking to deploy video conferencing in your organization, would you want a solution that will grow with your company or a $300,000 investment that will sit in a conference room and collect dust?

With so many affordable video collaboration solutions on the market today, there is no reason video needs to be confined to a corner office or an executive board room. Video conferencing can be available anywhere, on any device with any budget. Let’s say you have a $300,000 budget for video collaboration, wouldn’t you want as many employees in the organization enabled to collaborate over video? Mobile, desktop and affordable room-based video solutions help the many rather than only a select few.

Imagine if you treated audio phones in the same manner in your organization: only reserving them for a select few employees. How productive would your organization be then?

The only way video can truly benefit and boost collaboration is if it becomes as ubiquitous as the phone. If everyone in your organization has easy access to it, then it stands to reason they’re more likely to use it for enhanced collaboration and BAM… productivity improves, employees have a more efficient work day, projects get completed faster, decisions happen more quickly, etc. This is why mobile video conferencing is becoming such a hot trend. Can you imagine carrying one of those bulky telepresence units in your pocket? Of course not! But with smartphones and camera-enabled tablets, you can. Desktop, laptops, smartphones, tablets, UC solutions like Microsoft Lync and affordable room-based systems like the LifeSize Unity Series: that is where video conferencing is the most accessible and that is where the industry is heading. The folks still building and selling telepresence solutions refuse to acknowledge telepresence has outstayed its welcome. It’s just not the practical solution companies need. It’s dead. Sorry, telepresence. The world has spoken. It’s time to rest in peace.

This article was syndicated on the website, Telepresence Options, on November 30, 2012.

5 Responses to “The World Has Spoken: Telepresence is Still Dead”

  1. VidInterop

    Michael – I respect your opinion, and passion for your product, I really do like the Lifesize product set and you are doing some fantastic things with the UVC. However we need to be positive in the way we comment on the technology (past and future trends) . I get concerned that it is too negative to say that expensive investments are only really good for collecting dust, if we say this – then we are punching ourselves in the face. The product is still video!

    In my opinion there are cases for all types and sizes ( codecs/screens and investments) in Telepresence/video conferencing. (Lets not touch on the confusion in the market on terminology here…).

    As a market, we need to be responsible in regards to how we communicate and “sell” video. We all need to sell it as interoperable and interconnected communication tool and there are a number of initiatives under way around the globe to ensure that we as the Video communication market will all benefit from the uptake of ubiquitous Video communications tools.

    Yes BYOD and mobile is fantastic – but anyone who can go more than 1 hour on a BYOD/mobile device for video meetings, and be productive in that meeting is a rare breed. I have been involved in all types and manners of video meetings, and there is a role for all available technologies for different scenarios. The gap between a Immersive TP solution and a HD Codec with 65 inch screen and PTZ camera is minimal, or in fact a Logitech camera and any good PC based solution is decreasing.

    I agree there is a major shift in accessing mobile video, accessing more rooms of smaller nature and growth of software based solutions. However if we don’t also include the ability to conference in a immersive Telepresence room that the CEO of Company X just happens to have, and tell them they need to throw it out…. then we are not selling “the real product” at all.

    You may well be totally correct in your comment that traditional TP growth is dead, trends see smaller investments in this product set, but there are also pockets of industries that i would challenge have invested more in traditional TP technology in the past 2 years than they ever had.

    Let’s all work together in connecting up all Video technologies – and I know Lifesize is true to this approach, but lets also not waste time in killing off other varieties of the product that still can have a positive effect on the industry.

    For the record I don’t work for any vendor or reseller. The work we need to do (all vendors, including the Big M with Skype, is open standards and interoperability and inter connectivity. The sales will then come!

    Reply
  2. Rytisas

    Hi Michael, there was a comment on LinkedIn to your post 7 days ago:
    “Jf Poulain • I like people and companies who don’t disclose any number but are using others to declare them dead!!!!!! Let’s be serious show the number for video conferecning on smartphones , tablets, laptops etc… and the winner is Skype by a long shot.”
    And no reaction nether from you nor from any of Lifesize… Is this blog dead?

    Reply
  3. Michael Helmbrecht

    Vidinterop,

    Thank you for your comments. I appreciate you taking the time to weigh in on this topic.

    I agree with many of the things you are saying. But in the case of telepresence, telepresence mirrored rooms, immersive telepresence, whatever the marketing name of the day is, I don’t agree. This category has gotten tremendous investment in hype over the five years that I’ve been in the industry. And while that’s brought attention to the market, it has also been the one of the biggest drivers of customer confusion because the benefits it offers aren’t product or technology benefits, they are room integration benefits. I’m all for giving customers flexibility and choice to build whatever solution they wish with the help of their integrator of choice. But for manufacturers to market as heavily as they have as a product fixed configuration telepresence suites that show up in shipping containers, can take a week to install and require extensive room remediation to accomodate them has, in my opinion, confused customers and ultimately has been negative for the industry. If a customer wants this type of configuration, then there are many ways for a skilled partner to build it for them. I contend that the manufacturer built and pushed telepresence suites segment is going to continue its decline for a multitude of good reasons. And I think that will ultimately prove to be a good thing for customers.

    Reply
  4. Aston Crouch

    Yeah it may be slowing down ..

    BUT WE WILL HAVE TO WAIT TILL 2015… why…

    WELL THATS A SECRET!

    Have a good day People.

    Aston

    Reply

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