Skype TV challenges videoconferencing

Enterprise adoption of Skype TV may pose threat to lower-end videoconferencing solutions, but not telepresence, say analysts.

Internet telephony company Skype's newest partnership with television makers will challenge lower-end videoconferencing solutions, but not telepresence vendors, said analysts.

Earlier at January's Consumer Electronics Show (CES), Skype had announced its partnership with TV makers to put its voice-over-Internet Protocol (VoIP) calling service as an application on Internet-enabled televisions, allowing phone calls to be made on camera right from a couch or desk.

Asked if Skype TV is business-ready, Dan Neary, the company's APAC vice president and general manager, said most Skype-enabled TVs will support regular Skype features, thus making them the "perfect platform" to support business communications. He added that 35 percent of Skype users use the service for business purposes. As of Q4 2009, there were half a billion subscribers.

Claudio Castelli, senior analyst at Ovum, said Skype TV probably offers a better quality than when used on a computer. Hence, it may challenge lower-end videoconferencing solutions providers. However, Skype TV will not affect the higher-end telepresence market.

Telepresence vendors put a lot in place to ensure high quality of the service, said Castelli. Telepresence typically uses life-size, high-definition images and spatial audio with the aim of creating a more realistic videoconferencing environment. On the other hand, Skype TV uses the public Internet to transmit data and therefore there is no guarantee of quality compared with telepresence, he added.

Gartner principal research analyst Robert Mason concurred. In an e-mail interview, he noted that Skype TV will initially present a model for more affordable high-definition video calling for small enterprises with multiple sites. However, it would take a lot more for Skype TV to challenge current telepresence players.

Skype would need to provide more interoperability with standard-based codes, said Mason. Networking giant Cisco in January released a teleconferencing interoperability protocol into the public domain to stimulate the growth of multiscreen telepresence systems.

Skype would also need to have deeper hooks into unified communications, as well as provide the ability to wrap managed services around the meeting experience where desired, said Mason.

BT, a telepresence solutions partner with Cisco, does not see Skype TV as a competitor to its enterprise telepresence solutions. "Skype is targeting a different market [which is the] home user," said Tony Melloy, general manager, deal structuring and professional services at BT Asia Pacific.

"BT delivers end-to-end managed telepresence solutions for the whole solution--which includes all LAN, WAN and IP telephony elements, not just the technology," said Melloy, adding that Skype TV targets home users whose needs are different.

A Frost and Sullivan report noted that the telepresence market in the Asia-Pacific region will grow to reach revenues of just over US$73 million by year-end.

On the consumer front, Skype TV will be competing with Cisco's home telepresence, also announced at the Las Vegas-based CES. In an e-mail interview with ZDNet Asia, Peter Jakobsen, director for collaboration architecture marketing at Cisco, said home telepresence will focus on features consumers want, instead of business-critical functions such as the integration of WebEx or office IP phone systems.

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