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Eric Le Guiniec, Vidyo

Paddy Baker talks to the European head of a videoconferencing provider – and gets to experience the technology at first hand.

How better to interview a videoconferencing provider than to use its own system? That’s what IE did for our interview with Brussels-based Eric Le Guiniec, vice president and general manager, EMEA of Vidyo. To prepare, I downloaded and installed some software onto my laptop – a quick and painless process – clicked on a link and away we went. The quality was of the video was good, as was the quality of the audio (except when background noise in my office intruded) and the two remained in sync. Tell me about the history of Vidyo and your product offering.Vidyo was created in 2005 by industry veterans. We thought that videoconferencing should be a much bigger market than it was at that stage – when it was only focused on room-to-room discussion using very expensive equipment and networks. We thought there must be a way to bring videoconferencing to larger numbers of people – but what needs to happen to achieve that?

When you look at what we call the legacy providers, they all use AVC coding technology, which was designed during the ISDN days: the codec assumes that the bandwidth is going be there, because when you make a call over ISDN you reserve the bandwidth. But when you move to generic networks, like we’re using right now, the bandwidth is never guaranteed – so the legacy coding doesn’t perform very well. When someone else starts gaming somewhere on the network, for instance, your video quality suddenly gets really bad.

What we’ve designed is a coding technology that’s flexible: it’s capable of adjusting the frame rate and the resolution of the picture on an ongoing basis. We don’t look at what speed we’re making the call, we just measure how much bandwidth is on the network and try to use it as efficiently as possible. We call it Scalable Video Coding (SVC). Depending on your CPU, screen and network capabilities, the codec is always making adjustments and optimising the experience.

Because of this technology, we are the first player that is truly capable of porting the software onto almost any device. In our portfolio, we have VidyoMobile that works over iPad, using wireless networks; in the same call you can also have PCs working over DSL or home broadband connections; you can have very high-bandwidth room systems; or even Panorama, our own telepresence system, in the same meeting. So what does this mean for end users?For end users, it means that they can use it from anywhere, on any device; the usability is much better, because things like network speed and remote connections are managed automatically; and the experience is very good – I’m using my PC and a DSL link, and I’m sending you nearly HD resolution right now.

The other advantage is that it’s software-based – it’s very agile, very scalable, and it’s much more affordable. When you need to update it, it’s just a software update, you don’t have to worry about hardware.

People in the VC industry have tended to associate software with a low-end experience. We are the first software player in the market to provide an experience that is better than a hardware-based solution. When you look at the history of IT companies, when a player enters a market with a software solution that is more affordable and provides a better experience, there is no reason left to stay with a hardware solution.

How are you addressing the market?We are convincing a large number of mainstream distributors in Europe, or service providers, to adopt our technology. We’re not looking to compete with the existing players – we believe that we can cover a market that is much larger than that covered by legacy solutions – so our partners are going to grow their businesses much faster than if they stayed with the legacy providers.

Although some of the legacy providers are also pursuing multi-platform strategies.When you look at them, you see that, for instance, mobile is done with one technology, room systems with another, telepresence with another – and you need gateways in between to connect them all and transcode. If you look at the experience, from mobile to telepresence for instance, I’m not sure you would want to buy it – and only a fraction of customers can afford to buy it. Our price point is five to ten times lower than any other technology, so we can access a much larger market.

In business terms, how big is Vidyo in the EMEA market, and how big would you like to be?There are two very big players in the market – Polycom and Cisco/Tandberg – and then there are a few others after them, and we are one of those. We are 20 people in Europe, and we have about 70 partners. When people look at the size of our company, they usually underestimate greatly how much we are making. The reason is that we are working with very strong partners, such as Elisa, the biggest service provider in the Nordics, who have 100 customer sites with our technology; we’ve signed with Arkadin, one of the leading voice bridging providers, and they’re moving to videoconferencing with our technology; Orange is working with us in France; and in the UK, our main distributor is Imago, which is also the biggest Polycom distributor in Europe.

In which sectors are you finding most success?We’re very successful in government, because they are very price-sensitive, and usually they are very large organisations. The larger the deal is, the better it is suited to us because we can scale faster, better and so on. We’re very successful also in healthcare: people tend to think of remote connections between hospitals, but in fact there is one segment where we are very strong, which is home care. In North America and northern Europe there are very large projects where the government provides home care services to elderly people. You can’t force elderly people to use something they don’t like – it has to be easy.

There’s a strong business case, but they’ve seen – in Finland for instance – that it goes beyond that. People are using it as a video social network; elderly people are calling each other and speaking for hours a day – and they don’t feel lonely any more, as they’re connected to their friends. And their health is getting better as a result.

And, of course, global enterprises. When they’re ready to go for video communication, on a global scale, and they compare what they can get from us with what they can get from others, it’s a no-brainer.

Is there a role for the AV integrator in the Vidyo portfolio?There is a strong role for AV players. We can connect a room system into the call [at which point he does exactly that] – here is Fabio in Milan, he’s using an HD room system. It’s a 1080p dual-screen system, so you can imagine all of the integration services that can go into it. And room integration is even more relevant to the Panorama telepresence products that we are launching. We provide the coding boxes, camera and audio, and typically the furniture integration or room integration are performed by AV integrators. So within our partner ecosystem we have AV partners as well as regular videoconferencing players and IT integration houses.

Do you have a mission statement?We want to make telepresence personal and affordable. A good telepresence experience is about a few things: good quality image; good quality audio; and it’s very much about low latency. Our technology is the best on the market from that perspective – we do 20ms, versus 200ms for the others. If you’re calling people from India or the US, that makes a big difference.

I’ve been selling desktop videoconferencing for 15 years – I’ve been through every generation of products. Some of the previous products I was selling, people had to beat us to get us to use them – we had scheduled online meetings that we had to attend, and that was it. We didn’t call each other because it was painful and not that good. Today you don’t have to force people to use it – they just do. Would you say that your product set is mature, or are there more developments in the pipeline?The product range is fairly mature. When we only had desktop and room systems, it was easy for our competitors to say they had the same thing. Now we have added mobile and telepresence, using the same software back-end infrastructure, it’s difficult for them to compare. So from that perspective, our product range is now complete – and we have a more complete solution than any other player in the market.

On top of that we have a gateway, so we are compatible with other systems – I can call a Tandberg or a Polycom system from my desktop. Our solution is standard-based – SVC is an official H.264 standard. It’s funny when other companies say they are more standard than us, when they require dedicated hardware: what could be more standard than my PC with a Logitech cam?