Polycom targets group Web conferencing

Continuing the trend to make conferencing easier -- both Web and video -- Polycom has launched a conference phone attachment for sharing PC-based data in small group meetings. It also will unveil network equipment designed to make it easier to connect multiple users in one call across networks.

With the new QSX appliance, Polycom is looking to tap its 1.7 million conference phone customers who want to share application or presentation data from their PCs without the need for a third-party Web conference provider. The QSX is a hub of sorts, which connects a phone, PC and projector/display. A presenter connects a PC or laptop to a QSX via a VGA monitor cable. He does not need access to a corporate network or to install any additional applications on his machine.

The product works two ways: If there are QSX devices on either end of a call, a non-audible signal is used over the analog network to share IP address information between the two, and determine which one will be the "host." Then a standard H.323 connection is made over the data network to send the screen data. A second option is for up to 10 to connect via a Web browser. QSX can provide an internal IP address for local users, and be configured for a second, publicly routable IP address for those outside.

Viewers only need a Java-enabled browser to view the content. For Web-based viewers, content is sent over Port 80, says Greg Goldfarb, director of product management for voice communications at Polycom.

"There's a lot of overhead to setting up traditional Web conferencing such as logging people in," says Ben Saitz, senior director of operations at Doubleclick and a QSX beta tester. Web conferencing services "are great for a large set of [participants], but if you have a group of people all working on the same project or customer problem, this is great way of getting people together."

Polycom is not going after the general Web conferencing market, dominated by WebEx, Raindance and Genesys. Instead, it's targeting users that just need screen-sharing capability without a lot of extra features, says Shanmuga Purushothaman, program leader for conferencing and collaboration at analyst firm Frost & Sullivan. A similar software-only offering is available from Glance Network for a monthly fee of about US$50 for an individual user. QSX is priced starting at AUD$1,935 (ex GST).

On the network side, Polycom is releasing a new line of conferencing products called ReadiService, which consists of ReadiConvene, ReadiManager and ReadiRecord.

ReadiConvene is an audio/videoconferencing bridge that includes the most popular features of Polycom's high-end MGC line multi-point control units in an easier-to-use package for IP-only installations. ReadiManager provides a Web-based interface for managing endpoints from Polycom and competitors such as Tandberg, and for scheduling calls. ReadiRecord will capture audio from a videoconference call, not the video- and data- (PC content) streams.

Tandberg and Radvision offer competing bridge and management appliances.

Polycom says it plans to release ReadiConvene, starting at US$36,000, and ReadiManager, starting at US$34,000, later this quarter. ReadiRecord is scheduled to be available in the third quarter, starting at US$24,000.

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