Polycom, 8x8 collaborate to create video conferencing service for SMBs.

The soon-to-be released Virtual Room application will require no customer premise equipment.

By Ted Stevenson | Posted Apr 13, 2011
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IP based video conferencing technology is not new to either Polycom Corp.—long known for its high-end telepresence systems—or 8x8 Inc.—most familiar to the SMB marketplace as a provider of hosted IP PBX services, but also a holder of significant video-related patents and a provider of a variety of video services for years.

Now, the two companies are pooling their expertise to create an affordable and accessible video conferencing service, Virtual Room, aimed at small and medium-size businesses. It will be offered as an extension of 8x8's Virtual Office Pro UC suite.

Virtual Room will be powered by Polycom's UC Intelligent Core using Polycom endpoints or 8x8's web client interface; it will be delivered via 8x8's hosted PBX technology.

"It's an integration between Polycom video endpoints and the 8x8 UC technology and our hosted PBX offering—an amalgam of those three elements," Huw Reese, 8x8's vice president of sales and marketing told Enterprise VoIPplanet.

On the simplest level, the service will allow point-to-point video calls between Polycom VVX executive video phones. "We're using the 8x8 hosted PBX technology to enable the endpoints to have simple traditional E.164 dialing plans," Reese explained. This allows any subscriber equipped with a VVX to call any other subscriber similarly equipped and have a video conference.

"You don't have to have a video phone to participate in a video conference call, though," Reese pointed out. 8x8's UC web client can participate fully, dialing the VVX endpoints (or any other web client) or being dialed by them.

"So that's the first step," Rees said. "The second step is the ability to dial VVX to VVX, but instead of going peer to peer, we're introducing the RMX conference bridge." The RMX bridge, which the 8x8 PBX treats as another endpoint, allows the bridging together of multiple endpoints—with or without video capability.

"If the device supports video, it'll get video, and if it doesn't, it just gets the voice," Rees said.

These first two stages are fully functional now, according to Reese. The third stage, which 8x8 expects to be in place within the next month or so, will enable the bridge also to support Polycom's HDX high-definition small room systems (as distinct from the high-end telepresence systems).

"That will enable all the services to use that bridging technology to enable a larger scale video conference bridge, but with the ease of use people associate with other services—by just dialing phone numbers," Reese commented.

Also on the Virtual Room roadmap will be a client for mobile devices. " Right now, you can participate using a mobile phone, but you're only going to get audio, but not the video," Rees added.

"The crux of what will be the value proposition to the end customers is that this requires no on-premise equipment," Rees said. "8x8 is a hosted provider. We offer hosted PBX and hosted UC. This will be hosted video, exactly along the same lines."

Indeed, although the infrastructure is not yet in place, the plan is that 8x8 will host Polycom's RMX bridges and, likely, it's DMA load balancers. "We will host those in a fully redundant manner," Rees said.

The reason? Reliability. "When you want to do a video conference, you really want to do a video conference. It's been scheduled—it's really pretty essential that it works. We will guarantee the up time of the bridges, we will make sure that if a bridge has problems, that it's automatically switched to a backup. And we'll monitor that 24 hours a day 365 days a year," Rees told VoIPplanet..

The piece of 8x8 technology that completes this offering is firewall traversal. SIP (the protocol on which 8x8's services are built) is notoriously difficult to get through the typical firewall effectively—especially firewalls that use NAT (network address translation).

8x8's NAT firewall traversal technology is well proven over years of service with the company's audio services, and it will contribute to the success and ease of deployment of Virtual Room. "Not only is no CPE required," Rees pointed out, "but likewise the customer network won't require any special tweaking."

Although, again, this is a decision still in the making, the service model for Virtual Room is likely to be something along the lines of a monthly subscription with unlimited usage.

"You sign up for the service, you pay a monthly fee, and we give you access to a certain number of resources on an unlimited basis," Rees said. "We think that's the best kind of model, it's something customers can budget for."

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