back to article Whatever happened to telepresence? From $2.5m deals to free iPad apps

Cast your mind back nearly 10 years and high-end videoconferencing with its eye-watering price was being touted as the substitute for the corporate jet. At the time, having remote video streams to view your conference room was a big deal that involved an awful lot of looking after and a continuous investment each month for the …

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FAIL

Cisco is the problem, Skype is good enough

Cisco costs silly money and they don't play nice with anyone else. But they always get first shot at the quote cos that is what the infrastructure 'experts' recommend so they get to play with their serial cables. Have put Skype into several offices and actual users are happy because thy can communicate with 'normal' third parties on their home laptop; It is 'good enough' for inter-office - just create a skype account for each endpoint. The upper end of home user webcams are good enough these days, and voice lag issues are best overcome simply by using a regular conference phone for audio.

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Coat

Re: Cisco is the problem, Skype is good enough

Cisco is no more 'the problem' than any other VC/TP vendor. As to not playing nice, how so? Cisco TP products CTS aside are from the purchase of TANDBERG - a company known for its interop and adherence to standards.

CTS used TIP a technically superior way for multi-screen systems which was propitiatory but no more it was released as part of the above purchase and has been used by Polycom among others.

Yes, they do cost money but there are times when 'good enough' IS NOT good enough.

To be clear I have no vested interest in Cisco, I have a number of years in the industry however and I just get a little mad with unfounded and unproven statements like this...

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Re: Cisco is the problem, Skype is good enough

I've had lots of problems with video on Skype and wouldn't recommend it for corporate environments where the video certainly isn't good enough to go on a big screen.

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Re: Cisco is the problem, Skype is good enough

Media gateways that cost megabucks are a requirement in almost all deployments of Cisco + other vendor. More hidden costs. Yeah, you can get Cisco TP to work, but only if your company really likes throwing money away so you can be a 'Cisco house'.

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FAIL

Re: Cisco is the problem, Skype is good enough

This makes no sense. This is all about corporate offerings and Skype as an unsecured P2P network has no place on corporate networks. If you are placing Skype in offices then you have not accurately communicated the security issues to the customer and have given them a "good enough" security risk. Yes it is free... now consider why it is free! Do you know who the super users of Skype are? These are peers which Skype use for routing and media anchoring and I assure you the requirements needed make these peers the last people you would want your corporate traffic being routed via.

Again yes Cisco are expensive but you may have noted a whole host of offerings from other players listed in this article... you will also note Skype is absent from this article and for good reason.

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Re: Cisco is the problem, Skype is good enough

"good enough" aka "fuck it, that'll do".

nice attitude.

i take it concerns about security, reliability, audio and visual quality etc are just too petty for you to bother with. i wonder if your CEO feels the same way?

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Re: Cisco is the problem, Skype is good enough

Quote from my CEO "We're not using Skype to plot the perfect murder. We're trying to save some cash where the alternative is to fly several regional directors over to give us his monthly report and presentation."

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WTF?

Re: Cisco is the problem, Skype is good enough

...Skype as an unsecured P2P network...

The routing may be all over the place, but as the stream is encrypted, why does that matter?

Presumably, in your world, the NSA have that massive bounty on offer for a route into Skype just for a laugh. In the real world, if they are stuffed for cracking it, that's as good as (if not better than) any other solution.

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Re: Cisco is the problem, Skype is good enough

"voice lag issues are best overcome simply by using a regular conference phone for audio"

Use two devices for the one conversation? Wtf is good enough about that? It's an abortion is what that is.

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Mushroom

Re: Cisco is the problem, Skype is good enough

Skype is fully integrated with Lync from June 2013....

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Mushroom

Re: Cisco is the problem, Skype is good enough

That's by design. See http://www.supertintin.com/blog/skype/force-skype-hd-video

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Re: Cisco is the problem, Skype is good enough

Since before the MS takeover, Skype have done a Skype-for-business offer (roughly £10/month per host license I beleive, I'm sure bulk discounts can be arranged) whereby you can stop the creation of supernodes and control other aspects of it's delivery and operation in an Enterprise environment.

Personally I'm more a fan of webex with it's delicious bandwidth scaling and uber functionality than I am of Skype's rather feeble efforts, but the consumerisation of IT means that users only know about Skype so that's what they want. As soon as you say 'ok, if you pay for the staff costs in administration, control and monitoring, and are willing to pay for a massively increased corporate internet connection to cope with the chunky bandwidth usage... they soon shut up. Well. That particular customer does. Then you have to have the same conversation with other customers every other week.

If your customers are pestering for free Skype and you don't already have something to offer them that IS suitable, I'd advise you to prep a stock email about the real options available to them. and then suggest they try webex who now offer a free up-to-three-in-a-conference version of Webex Meetings with more or less the same functionality as the full £30/month version which may well do the trick for quite a lot of business areas considering using VC tech for mobile collaborative teamworking rather than full 'conferencing'. Plus it's proxy aware, comparitively bandwidth light and really very secure. The client can be activeX or Java-called so doesn't cause much in the way of deployment issues, plus it has a simple toolbar integration with Office and outlook and some other stuff if you choose to allow users to install it.

If only the 'full' version wasn't so expensive, it'd be perfect (£30 per host per month + call charges? Come ON Cisco, you're pricing yourselves out of the market, no wonder enterprise customers - including us, now who've been investigating and trialling a wider webex deployment - are using or considering using lync!)

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Re: Cisco is the problem, Skype is good enough

Er, Skype is NOT fully integrated in Lync 2013 from June. VOICE integration will be present (and possibly only one way e.g. from lync to skype but not the other way around), and video will come 'within the next 18 months' after that.

But the point is valid - MS are integrating them as we all knew they would. Can't come soon enough for me so we can finally shut up all those people saying 'but I must have skype, all the people I deal with use Skype!'

The main thrust of the article is the key one - all these proprietary systems are basically responsible for holding back the dissemination of the technology. Integration is the key, so while I may be a webex fanboi, in this case I really appreciate MS's efforts to move to HTML5 and leverage open standards and their existing products. Cisco are being very silly indeed by not joining the club.

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Re: Cisco is the problem, Skype is good enough

"The routing may be all over the place, but as the stream is encrypted, why does that matter?"

Whenever you deal with encryption it is relevant who has the key. And with Skype, Skype has the key. That's why Skype offers to help governments eavesdrop on conversations. Get a packet log to Skype and proof you are the official governmental police official from Kygizistan, and they'll happily decrypt it for you.

In fact since Skype is seen as a telco in many countries they even have to provide facilities for "Lawful Interception".

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Re: Cisco is the problem, Skype is good enough

Skype is fully integrated with Lync from June 2013....

Is it? My understanding was that voice and IM are, but video is 18 months away.

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Re: Cisco is the problem, Skype is good enough

you never heard of Webex? Audio conferencing? MS Lync? The alternative is to FLY several directors over? What century are you living in? There's a multitude of alternatives to bloody Skype.

Skype is for domestic use, end of.

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Linux

Re: Cisco is the problem, Skype is good enough

Your point about supernodes is not correct any longer. Since Microsoft bought Skype they moved the supernode function into MS's global datacenters. One of the ironies is that they used thousands of hardened linux servers.

You can google plenty of information about it but here is a source link:

http://arstechnica.com/business/2012/05/skype-replaces-p2p-supernodes-with-linux-boxes-hosted-by-microsoft/

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Re: Cisco is the problem, Skype is good enough

Actually the routing isn't all over the place any longer:

http://arstechnica.com/business/2012/05/skype-replaces-p2p-supernodes-with-linux-boxes-hosted-by-microsoft/

That said... I bet its a lot easier for Law Enforcement to tap now... I'll get my coat, the Black Helicopters will arrive soon.

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Ditto to Skype

Spent the past few years putting Skype into boardrooms. A £1K Skype spend performs the same as a £15 - 20K Cisco spend. 1080p is more than possible with a 1.5Mb uplink ADSL. Sound quality is achieved by using pre-amp'd mics distributed over desks. QOS in the router set up so that Johnny Torrents download doesn't knock out the Skype, and use an ISP that doesn't throttle like Zen or AAISP.

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Re: Ditto to Skype

From a security perspective I'd not let Skype handle sensitive information. It's just not secure.... then again, those commercial solutions also have a very bad reputation when it comes to security.

What we'd really need would be a SIP-based video conference solution. Then you could take any client, and you could even encrypt it or run it on your own VPN if you wanted.

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JC_

@Aqua Marina

What hardware did you buy? We haven't had much luck with the audio for our group conferences (done in meeting rooms).

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Silver badge

Another vote for Skype

We use it all the time - I connect the host machine to a 72 plasma screen, maximise the video window, I use a boundary mic connected to an Edirol sound interface, and everyone says that they rapidly forget that one user is not there.

The remote users can normally just use their own kit from home.

Being on a University LAN with gigabit ethernet to all ports helps enormously - though we can get issues when the person on the other end has a limited connection.

Total cost, minimal - just using standard equipment, but it has saved our department many, many thousands.

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Get the sound right first

On most of the conference calls I've been involved in sound has been the biggest problem rather than the picture. Instead of shelling out for expensive screens if only they could have invested in a bunch of lavalier mics with radio transmitters the picture really wouldn't have mattered that much.

Most of the conference calls I make I do from home and use my small studio with a cheap mixer, a compressor/gate and a modest microphone I am always the clearest participant by far.

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Robots

I quite like the approach taken by using robots outlined in the most recent Technology Quarterly.

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Re: Robots

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-K1uj9VmCzo

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Sil

Silverlight abandoned too soon

Silverlight was abandoned way too soon, it was very interesting in many different areas including business presentation layer as well as massively bandwidth-adaptative streaming.

Microsoft has made the same mistake as Facebook, going all-in in HTML 5 too soon, at a point where it doesn't bring anything to the customer, which is still using crappy flash btw instead of HTML 5, where Silverlight/WMV9 provided in many case a better streaming experience with non constant bandwidth. And tested in the biggest scenarii possible such as the olympics.

I don't understand why Microsoft didn't us this know how for teleconferencing/ instant video messaging. It could have tried to get the industry standardize on WMV/Silverlight, perhaps even open source it, I'm sure many hardware partners would have been thrilled, after having invested non-trivial sums to support MS codecs.

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Re: Silverlight abandoned too soon

Silverlight was just another example of how MS hated open standards and inter-operability.

And still hates them and would do everything in it's power to destroy them.

Never, ever trust MS when it comes to standards.

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Facepalm

"Everyone needs to have it, otherwise no one will ever use it"

Great I have to waste £0000's or else no one will use telepresence!

No one has ever made any money or "done" business before so we must get it now or miss a trick.

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Why?

It seems that all of this technology is there to display "talking heads" which you can just bypass for the most part. Maybe we should go back to the 100 year old technology of the telephone and not worry.

Sure, the video impresses people and is nice and "blingy", but at the end of the day smoke and mirrors would probably do as well. I just attended a company "broadcast" and if one had sound and the slides of the presentation, it would have done just as well. The telepresence is VERY overrated. The problem is that those with three letter titles (usually beginning with 'C') like to have the fancy expensive stuff, and show it off to their friends. This starts a never ending escalation and arms race to have the better kit.

Why bother!

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Re: Why?

> at the end of the day smoke and mirrors would probably do as well.

Our company uses images of black monoliths with two-digit integers and the words "AUDIO ONLY" emblazoned in red.

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Go

Re: Why?

Our company uses images of black monoliths with two-digit integers and the words "AUDIO ONLY" emblazoned in red.

I must get this for my videoconferencing avatar.

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Anonymous Coward

Jabber? Not so much

Jabber isn't yet enterprise ready - despite it coming from Cisco.

It's unusual to see something from Microsoft beating Cisco in the UC front. I'm sure they'll catch up though - they have a reputation to defend.

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Silver badge

If you want a budget audio-only solution that works use Mumble

Mumble is an open source audio conferencing software. It works kinda like IRC. You set up a server (or use one provided by one of the pirate parties or the CCC) and you have people connecting to it.

In a nutshell it sends all voice channels to everyone. It even has features to position the voices which is used for some computer games.

You can either use voice activity detection or you can use push to talk. If you use push to talk (which can be put onto any button you want) you can see who has pushed their button in the user list. That's a really important feature since there is no video.

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Silver badge

About Skype and Security

Mircrosoft just released its 2012 "Law Enforcement Requests Report"

http://blogs.technet.com/b/microsoft_on_the_issues/archive/2013/03/21/microsoft-releases-2012-law-enforcement-requests-report.aspx

As you can see, they not only have the relevant data of who skyped with whom, but they also disclose it to government. Sometimes they even disclose the actual data.

Skype may be good enough to discuss your terror plots with your friends. In a business going to a proper solution is however worth the 10 minutes it takes to set up an Asterisk server. (or the few minutes it takes to set up calling via IP-Addresses)

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