Polycom’s big news

After watching the announcements by Polycom yesterday and having time to reflect, here’s my take on what I think this all really means:

Polycom’s aquisition of HP I suspect is of more benefit to the HP business unit than Polycom in the long term.  On the face of it, HP’s video business overlaps significantly with Polycom’s, with the only significant difference being the development work going on within HP to bring visual communications to a mass market via its WebOS platform.  So why not continue to partner then?

Why do Polycom now want a VNOC service when with their previous aquisition of Telesuite / Destiny, they  hived that element off?  The HP aquisition looks and feels very similar in scope to that of Destiny some years ago, in that Polycom have aquired some large Customers, an immersive Telepresence product, a network that services those systems and a VNOC service.  Will history repeat itself or will Polycom now enter the VNOC business proper?  My suspicion is that this will be ring fenced for existing HP customers, but as for the future of this service, it’s difficult to see Polycom continuing to grow this offering if they want to keep their partners happy.  Then of course comes the question of product overlap, as both HP and Polycom provide what are essentially competing products.  Expect to see a similar strategy to that adopted by Cisco in managing its portfolio of CTS and T-series systems.  What’s really compelling though are the links between Polycom and HP in terms of WebOS development.  Will HP / Polycom really have a play here to compete in the Tablet and Handheld space, and how will it integrate into the overall portfolio?

My suspicion is that this is not a great aquisition.  Polycom have not bought any unique competencies here.  The WebOS competencies still remain with HP, and meanwhile they’ve bought an overlapping product portfolio, a VNOC service that potentially competes with its customers, and they’ve bought HP’s customer base.

The Microsoft connection yielded no major suprises.  Microsoft needs to get into the immersive, big meeting room space if it wants to compete, and Polycom has the competence to make this happen.  The announcements around SVC should also come as no surprise, although again one wonders why the choice of SVC over H.264 baseline is more a case of market positioning than it is from a geniune desire to drive interoperability and ubiquitous video (Cisco don’t have SVC yet, 1-0 to Polycom).

Of most interest was the annoucement of the Telepresence network ecosystem, called the Open Visual Communications Consortium.  Notable by its absence again was Cisco.  No firm details were provided about how this consortium would actually work, or deliver the seamless ‘mobile telephony’ type experience, but the sentiment is one I generally applaud, but the devil is really in the detail.  How will this consortium deal with cross network billing?  How will they ensure that video traffic traversing their networks retain the quality of service required to support immersive telepresence calls?  And importantly, what if a call is placed from inside a consortium member’s network to a busienss that is outside it?

As I have previously suggested, we are beginning to see the hegemonisation of visual communications on the internet.  Polycom places itself here as the central player, which makes sense from a service provider perspective (as this means BT doesn’t have to play 2nd fiddle to AT&T and vice-versa), but it does make it difficult for Cisco to enter this ecosystem, and if Cisco aren’t playing, simply put the OVCC is little more than market positioning.

Despite this, if some good is to come of the OVCC, it has to be able to deliver a service in which customers, regardless of which vendor they use, are able to place calls to each other, across the internet between ISP’s, with guaranteed QoS with a cost structure that promotes inter-company communication rather than choking it.  I still feel that this will only happen when the industry appoints a regulator, in the meantime, let’s see how Polycom fares.