Mobility on the cheap

With the release of a new mid-range multimedia communication device, Mitel Networks Corp. of Ottawa aims to make the mobile workplace more affordable.

Mitel announced the UC360 at its business partner conference in San Diego, Calif. It’s a sleek-looking piece touch-screen hardware for HD video conferencing and document sharing. Mitel says it will fit somewhere in between an expensive telepresence conference room and a desktop video device.

As Wendy Moore-Bailey, Mitel director for solutions marketing, put it, there’s a “big gap in the middle of these two extremes.”

The company said it plans to market the UC360 extensively through its channel partners.

It’s nice to have a conference room bristling with audio and video equipment, she said, but only if you can afford the cost of one, which can run as high as $20,000. And when companies do spend that kind of money, she added, the conference room ends up being thought of as a luxury commodity.

“They aren’t something that’s easily accessible across your organization. If you want to use these room-based solutions you need to schedule them. So, you tend to reserve them for special events – maybe an important board meeting or a product launch or something like that.”

By contrast, the UC360 will be priced at less than $2,000, Moore-Bailey said. More expensive than a webcam, but also more functional and practical. Instead of being mounted on a laptop or having its own small integrated monitor, the device will plug into various cameras and displays, including large HDMI monitors mounted in boardrooms that multiple people can view comfortably.

“It’s just not an effective form of collaboration when you’ve got a bunch of people trying to huddle around something that was actually designed for the individual,” she said.

The prevalence of mobile devices in the workplace and the popularity of cloud storage were also factors taken into account in designing the UC360, Moore-Bailey added. “More and more people are walking around with iPads or Android tablets or just smartphones – not something that they can easily connect into your projection device. And as a consequence, there’s a lot of use of tools like DropBox and Google Docs as a way of basically always having access to your documents.”

Melanie Turek, a research vice-president at Frost and Sullivan Inc., said Mitel (Nasdaq: MTL) seems to have found a new market area to exploit. There are few comparable video collaboration products, and those that do exist are mostly intended for use by top executives.

“What this really, in my mind, is going to end up replacing is something that traditionally has been called an executive desktop system, which is basically an all-in-one-it looks a lot like a monitor, a computer monitor-and sits on a literal desktop in an executive office,” Turek said.

“This, I think, can really nicely replace that. The price is similar. It’s a little bit higher than those desktop systems but then again, you’re getting a probably much better experience.”

The problem with all-in-one video conferencing systems is their lack of flexibility: that is, a fixed display and camera, she said. The UC360, meanwhile, can be customized to users’ needs, whether they’re in a large boardroom or a small home office.

Plus, in a workplace that’s becoming increasingly distributed, it will offer companies an economical way to keep their satellite locations, some of which may only have a handful of staff, more opportunities to participate in video conferences.

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