Fuze Telepresence Connect hopes to solve interoperability woes

One of the major drawbacks with traditional room-based telepresence installations is that systems from different vendors are typically incompatible with each other, and also may not work with other video conferencing endpoints, such as desktop and mobile video conferencing tools. These walled gardens are a problem for a few reasons: They lock customers to a particular vendor; they reduce the possibility of business-to-business telepresence; and they limit telepresence usage only to those employees who can physically access a telepresence room, which isn’t great for remote workers.

Video conferencing and online meeting provider FuzeBox announced a new product Wednesday, Fuze Telepresence Connect, which hopes to overcome these interoperability problems by enabling its Fuze Meeting product to act as a gateway between Tandberg (s csco), Polycom (s plcm) and LifeSize telepresence systems. It can also extend telepresence across iPads (s aapl), Android tablets (s goog), PCs and Macs, making it available to an entire workforce.

Telepresence Connect offers:

  • Scalable multiparty HD video conferencing. High resolution and high frame rate encode and decode at multiple frame rates and resolutions.
  • Standards-based encoding technology. H.264/AVC/SVC based.
  • Error resilience and localization. Maintains continuous high-quality video without broken pictures or other artifacts in environments with high packet loss, while individual client network errors do not affect other conference participants
  • Resolution and rate matching. Supports sending video to multiple endpoints with different bandwidths and resolution capabilities, without transcoding.
  • Dynamic rate control. Automatically and continuously senses the current network condition and adjusts bit rates accordingly
  • Firewall/NAT traversal. Embedded functionality that provides a safe and secure connection through any firewall with no feature loss and no additional equipment required.

I’ve seen a demo of Telepresence Connect in Fuze Meeting, and it was impressive, enabling connection to and switching between several telepresence rooms, as well as simultaneous desktop HD video conferencing with several participants. It also provides access to Fuze Meeting’s built-in collaboration tools, such as file viewing, annotation and screen sharing. The seamless connection to various telepresence rooms was particularly pleasing, as typically setting up a telepresence meeting session is not straightforward. I also liked the intuitive Fuze Meeting interface, which enables users to determine the layout of the conferencing screen, choosing which video feeds to highlight or bring to the front — something that’s not usually possible in MCU-based telepresence conferences.

FuzeBox’s new product is not the only cloud-based gateway that can connect telepresence systems. Vidtel, used by the MondoPad device I wrote about last week, also claims to offer “any-to-any” HD video conferencing, for example. However, Fuze Meeting with Telepresence Connect is the only product that works across H.323, SIP and H.264 and can also connect to tablet devices as well as PCs and Macs, and is also the only product to have built-in, easy-to-use conferencing and collaboration tools. Installation of Fuze Telepresence Connect starts at $18,000, with 20 percent annual maintenance fees. That may sound expensive, but it is pretty small compared to the investment required for a typical telepresence setup.

A potential issue for FuzeBox’s new product is the effort vendors are now making to improve interoperability themselves, with most new gear now adhering to either the TIP or H.323 standards, while Cisco (s csco), for example, announced an update to its TC and  CTS software Tuesday that will be available later this year and extends interoperability with all standards-based endpoints. So has FuzeBox’s product come too late to market? I don’t think so; the telepresence vendors have been sluggish in their attempts to improve interoperability and there are plenty of existing, legacy telepresence installations out there that companies would like to squeeze more usage and life out of.