Polycom CEO Robert Hagerty talks telepresence

Polycom's CEO talks about the long-awaited arrival of 'spooky-good' videoconferencing and the next big thing: videoconferencing on handhelds.

Robert Hagerty, CEO of Polycom

Robert Hagerty, CEO of Polycom

Videoconferencing is available for desktops and even through specially designed rooms called telepresence systems, but on wireless handhelds? According to Robert Hagerty, who has been CEO of Polycom for 10 years, it could be widely available soon.

Polycom has just had a record year for revenue. Why has it taken videoconferencing so long to arrive?

We have a great value proposition with video communications, and it has taken a long time in coming. Originally, we were hobbled by a telephony infrastructure that ran on ISDN, but now it is on Internet Protocol. You can't believe how incredibly good the video quality is today. We at Polycom offer anything from desktop to PC to video that runs on phones to telepresence, all seamlessly built and high-definition. It's spooky-good video. You could take a penny and show Lincoln as he sits in the Lincoln Memorial on the back. That's how good it is. The integration with other phone and desktop communications has also leapfrogged.

Is the value proposition about saving on business travel?

At Polycom, we have video for anybody who wants it, and that's up to 2,000 people in our workforce. The value proposition is there, our travel budgets are less, and we're not spewing carbon from planes or driving or in a cab. The productivity level is much higher. I can meet eight to 10 customers a day on videoconference, and I have great meetings in high definition, face to face.

When will videoconferencing be available on wireless handhelds?

We have videoconferencing solutions working over 3G networks with Ericsson in Italy, running on the Palm. It's live TV, a live videoconferencing hook through our enterprise network and through 3G and into the backbone, which connects a person to the office so they can talk on a handheld. It looks great, but it's not high definition. You can get high-definition videoconferencing on a PC. It easily downloads. We're doing it over Wi-Fi, too, so people sitting in airports can be on videoconference calls with their laptops while they are waiting. That's live videoconferencing in high def. It's a full 30 frames a second, depending on the network. That's TV quality.

How big will videoconferencing on handhelds be?

As videoconferencing migrates from a niche technology to the mainstream in the enterprise, you'll want videoconferencing for everyone, everywhere. It's a huge thing. It's part of a wave that's starting to crest and affecting everyone. To be provocative, I'd say voice-only will be a rarity on a wireless handheld, and videoconferencing will be the norm, sometime in the not-too-distant future.

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