Business Videoconferencing for the Little Guy

Software-as-a-service provider SightSpeed is looking to turn the videoconferencing world upside down.

By Ted Stevenson | Posted Oct 29, 2007
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Berkeley, Calif.-based SightSpeed Inc. has been offering a consumer-focused videoconferencing service for some years. It has been very well received—boasting awards from the likes of PC Magazine, Macworld, and Frost & Sullivan—with worldwide distribution with Dell Computer and Creative Labs.

Today, with the launch of SightSpeed Business, the company is taking its message of high-quality, low-cost video communications to the business world —specifically, small and medium-size businesses, which, says CEO Peter Csathy, have not heretofore been able to enjoy the considerable benefits of the technology due to the huge startup costs of the fixed-location hardware typically used in large enterprises.

The new SightSpeed Business solution does away with hardware setups costing tens of thousands of dollars, replacing all that with now-ubiquitous portable video cameras and audio equipment. "A critical part of what's happening in the marketplace right now is that the vast majority of PCs and laptops are being shipped with embedded webcams," Csathy told Enterprise VoIPplanet.com, "so it's right in the hardware."

In addition to the huge cost-factor benefit, this reliance on portable audio/visual components makes the application inherently mobile—in direct contrast to mainstream enterprise videoconferencing installations, which are anchored in the conference room.

SightSpeed Business boasts an administrative console for system management, extended reporting, and simplified purchase of call minutes.

For $19.95-per month or $199-per year per seat, the service provides

  • Unlimited, SIP-standards-based, one-to-one video calling plus multi-party conferencing for up to four participants
  • In-call collaboration features, including file sharing and multi-video screen viewing
  • Unlimited video mail, video blogging, text messaging, and PC-to-PC voice calling
  • Voice and video mail for incoming calls
  • Ability to record, publish, and archive live video calls and conferences

The company is proud of its live, face-to-face video support and live toll-free phone support, and, to supplement direct subscriber-to-subscriber communications, it offers low-cost, per-minute PSTN out-calling, as well as low-cost direct-inward-dialing numbers at a modest monthly fee.

According to Csathy, SightSpeed's core technology, which evolved out of research projects at Cornell University, has three basic tenets:

"First, there's the human perception theory that underlies our ability to optimize any codec," he said. "The human eye requires much less data for perception than does a webcam. So, we optimize and take in and compress only the data that's necessary for an effective video connection to be made. We're much more efficient, from a codec standpoint," he explained.

Tenet two is real-time quality of service monitoring and management. "We are able to monitor bandwidth conditions and predict bandwidth conditions and adjust dynamically, in real time," Csathy said. "Accordingly, you can have a great quality video conference with 256k [of bandwidth] or above. You can have a near-high-def experience just slightly highter than that if you have a 640 by 480 pixel camera.

"The third part of our technology is our firewall traversal—and the ability to effectively create a direct peer-to-peer connection 95 percent of the time. So, there's a lot of power under the hood, but then at the same time, we're fully SIP- and standards-based, so we're very flexible," he concluded.

SightSpeed has clearly given some serious thought to the needs of the market, and already has customers that are taking video calling/conferencing light years beyond the traditional, conference-room-bound meeting application.

"Hardware videoconferencing is a multi-billion dollar business," Csathy observed, "but it only services the very privileged few. But we know there is a big base on the SMB side, because we have 30,000 businesses using our consumer offering today—predominantly for business reasons.

"It is a very valuable tool for sales reps, for example—as well as for some of the early target verticals that we're going after," Csathy told VoIPplanet.com. Distance learning, for example. You can imagine, if you're teaching foreign language, you need to see the mouth moving.

"For tele-medicine and healthcare. We have customers who use us for telemedicine, so you can now see the person and have a remote screening—at least initial screening—to see if there's a problem that might require the person to come in. Nursing homes and people who are in hospitals for days or weeks, they can now connect and have a personal relationship with their family when they're away from them."

This is definitely out-of-the-box thinking.

"There is a need for enterprise-quality video communications solutions for the small and medium business," said Rebecca Swensen, research analyst at IDC. "SightSpeed Business meets this need by providing quality video via a cost-effective service rather than a costly hardware solution. SightSpeed's software as a service approach has the potential to disrupt the business video conferencing market in much the same way that Salesforce.com disrupted the CRM business."

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