Video Telephony has Arrived�Really!

“There’s no problem selling video phones,” says WorldGate Communications chairman and CEO, Hal Krisbergh. “The problem is they keep coming back.” Krisbergh contends that WorldGate has changed all that with its bleeding-edge Ojo (pronounced OH-joe) phones.

For one thing, the Ojo (and it’s junior partner the Ojo Shadow) puts the generous, portrait-oriented screen and video camera up at eye level, for a natural viewing angle. But the more important innovations are in the innards.

Key to the Ojo’s performance is the company’s use of the ITU-T’s H.264 (MPEG-4) video codec. This high-compression algorithm lets the phone cram a full 30 frame-per-second video stream into a very moderate 100 kbps of bandwidth.

Prod interface

Working in concert with the codec is WorldGate’s proprietary “error-concealment” technology that compensates for the inevitable packet loss that occurs when transmitting media across the Internet. The result is full, smooth lip-synch video without the jerkiness or time delays, according to Krisbergh.

Furthermore, the Ojo contains all the processing and encoding technology necessary to transmit audio and video over IP. It’s a free-standing system. “It plugs directly into a router or a modem and it will be able to communicate with any other Ojo anywhere in the world,” Krisbergh told—”as long as it’s on a high-speed access—satellite, cable, DSL—it doesn’t matter.”

On the other hand, WorldGate designed the Ojo to be able to use existing phone numbers, and it maintains a registry to support this feature. “When someone buys an Ojo,” Krisbergh explained, “they give us the phone number they want to use and we put that in the registry. But there’s no other technology you need, no equipment you need.”

Ojo phones can, of course work in audio-only mode, and they function in both IP and traditional circuit-switched phone modes. The Ojo comes with a 2.4 GHz cordless handset that clicks into the unit’s upright when not in use. The Ojo Shadow lacks the handset, relying instead on a full-duplex speakerphone setup. Both phones can store up to 20 minutes worth of video messages.

While you can buy the Ojo and Ojo Shadow (“discounted” at $399 and $299, respectively) directly from WorldGate, the company’s overriding strategy is to sell through service-provider partners, such as Los Angeles-based GlobalTouch Telecom. According to Krisbergh, the company is rapidly “landing opportunities” worldwide, and already has partners in Japan, the UK, Russia, Israel, and Latin America.

This set of relationships works to the benefit of both sides of the partnership, Krisbergh asserts. “The real key issue for aggressive players in the VoIP marketplace is through product differentiation,” he said. “Video telephony is clearly a source of incremental revenue, but even more importantly, it’s a source of competitive advantage.”

Krisbergh is convinced that the Ojo has succeeded in crossing a hitherto unachieved quality threshold that leaves consumers satisfied with the video telephony experience, and that, as a result, video telephony is poised to take off as it has never done in the past. “As we like to say,” he told “this is not the future of the phone, this is the phone of the future.”

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