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Logitech To Launch Cloud Video Conferencing Service

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Logitech's LifeSize Connections 1.0, available this fall, offers a cloud-delivered infrastructure for high-definition video conferencing, which it touts as "democratizing" video conferencing by making it available to businesses that can't afford to build their own video conferencing systems. Initially, it is being offered as a standalone service only on desktop computers with plans down the road for integrating it with unified communications systems and supporting mobile devices.

Connections 1.0, which was revealed in July, was demonstrated recently at an event in Silicon Valley and will become available sometime in mid-October at $30 per month, per person for a desktop connection and $100 per month for a room-sized connection.

While LifeSize is competing with HD video conference systems from such vendors as Polycom and Cisco Systems, one selling point Logitech emphasizes with LifeSize Connections is that meetings can be scheduled on the fly. While some video conference systems feature a reservation system in which an organizer selects participants and sends them an invitation to log on at a certain time and date, LifeSize allows an organizer to contact people by phone, instant messaging, or email to invite them to join a meeting that may be already underway.

[Three out of four companies are expected to be using video conferencing in the next few years. Here are some of the reasons why.]

"We don't have to do pre-established meetings. With our approach it's much more dynamic. It's very much like with phones and IM," said Scott Lomond, vice president and general manager of Logitech's SightSpeed business, which Logitech acquired in 2008 for $30 million. SightSpeed delivers the session initiation protocol (SIP)-based cloud networking capabilities that integrate with the video communications platform from LifeSize Communications, which Logitech acquired in 2009 for $405 million.

The management platform for LifeSize Connections enables a meeting organizer to scroll through a directory of employees to include in a meeting. For a participant outside the company asked to join as a guest, the organizer sends him or her an email invitation and a link to download the LifeSize Connections desktop client.

For now, Connections is limited to PC and Mac computers, said Lomond, does not integrate with unified communications platforms like Microsoft SharePoint or Lync, and does not support smartphones or tablets running either Apple iOS or Google Android, although they are all on the road map.

Android and Apple support will come through Logitech's acquisition of Mirial in July.

Polycom, meanwhile, began shipping in July a video conferencing system preinstalled with Microsoft Lync.

Lomond says LifeSize Connections democratizes video conferencing by delivering it as a cloud service so customers, including small-to-medium businesses (SMBs), can avoid the capital and operating expensive of building their own network a la Cisco TelePresence, which can run to hundreds of thousands of dollars per location.

"Customers would come to us and they would say, 'We love your room systems. We're fascinated by the infrastructure products you have ... but we don't want to run any of that ourselves. We don't have the IT bench depth to take that on right now. What do you have for us that we get all the benefits of that but you're running it for us?'" he said.

The LifeSize Connections offering is entering a dynamic market for business and enterprise video conferencing, said Robert Poe, principal analyst with VoIP Evolution, a research firm, who lauded the ad hoc nature of its meeting set-up.

"Even with some of the hot new start-ups [in video conferencing] that the VCs are funding, they are very conventional reservation-based systems," Poe said.

Video conferencing is growing due to a number of factors, he continued, noting the impact of Cisco TelePresence on the high end of the market, the popularity of Skype for low-end video conferencing, and the acceptance of voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP) voice communications. "People are getting used to the fact that you can have a business grade service in the cloud," Poe said. "SMBs are saying 'If I don't do this am I going to be at a competitive disadvantage?'"

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