Blue Jeans Network looks to expand access to affordable videoconferencing

In a light-hearted billboard plea, company calls on Yahoo to reconsider pulling in its telecommuters

By , Computerworld |  Unified Communications, Collaboration Software, videoconferencing

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer's decision last month to call all of the company's telecommuters back to the office posed a creative challenge for video collaboration services provider Blue Jeans Network.

In response, the three-year-old startup added a humorous "Call us Marissa! We can help" line to a billboard that Blue Jeans erected in Silicon Valley.

The company's billboard was followed by last week's launch of a free Blue Jeans iOS app in the App Store for HD video conferencing and content sharing. Blue Jeans then announced a partnership with Tely Labs to provide an affordable conference room video collaboration appliance called telyHD for about $1,000 that bundles an HD video camera, speakers and microphone. A flat-screen TV or other display is extra.

All the other technology required for a videoconference is provided by Blue Jeans in the cloud, company officials said.

Blue Jeans also said it would begin offering dual streams for both interactive videoconferencing and content sharing. The products are being shown at the Enterprise Connect conference in Orlando through Thursday.

A year after it launched, Blue Jeans began promoting videoconferencing in the cloud to bridge traditional conference rooms with remote users from their desktops, laptops or mobile devices, and is now adding in the free iOS app. The company can network together videoconferencing endpoints from Cisco, Polycom, Lifesize, Sony, Huawei, Microsoft Lync, Skype, Google, any Web browser as well as telephones.

James Matheson, vice president of marketing at Blue Jeans, said the company has thousands of customers, ranging from small businesses to those in the Fortune 500 with up to half a million videoconferencing minutes used in a month.

High costs for videoconferencing have prevented many companies from relying on the technology, he said. "You used to pay through the nose to see the other person's nose," he said in an interview conducted via videoconference with Computerworld and accessed via a Web browser.

Matheson and a colleague appeared in the videoconference wearing jeans. "With a name like Blue Jeans, you have to expect that," he said.

Blue Jeans has dropped the cost of a videoconferencing connection to about what it costs to make an average audio conferencing connection, Matheson said. That puts the Blue Jeans service at 15 cents to 20 cents a minute per user on a video conference call.

At that rate, Blue Jeans would be affordable to any business, including Yahoo or others that need to connect workers from a variety of devices over great distances, Matheson said.

This billboard was erected by Blue Jeans Network to promote affordable videoconferencing, with a plea to Yahoo after its CEO Marisa Mayer called on telecommuters to return to the office. (Image Blue Jeans Network)

Existing Blue Jeans customer Envision Studios plans on taking advantage of the new iOS Blue Jeans app, said Ryan Malleus, studio manager for Envision.

The Santa Monica, Calif. studio currently uses Blue Jeans to share (via videoconference) acting auditions to ad agencies and production companies globally with up to five users at once, Malleus explained.

"It reduces travel costs immensely and conveniently gets everyone on the same creative page, regardless of time zone discrepancies," Malleus said via email. "The production work is dominated by Apple, as their products are ubiquitous amongst producers, directors and more, so this app will be helpful to reach our clients wherever they may be."

Brian Washburn, an analyst at Current Analysis, said the iOS app from Blue Jeans won't be the first, but is interesting since it was built in-house.

"This isn't a major technology breakthrough, but it does really help ease-of-use," he said. "Someone using Blue Jean's iOS app is going to be able to join a Blue Jeans videoconference call without having to wrestle with a lot of compatibility questions." Other iOS or Android videoconferencing apps are available from Polycom RealPresence Mobile, Cisco Jabber and Logitech/LifeSize ClearSea, he said. Sometimes large network carriers support the apps with their own videoconferencing services.

Washburn called Blue Jeans a "solid innovator in videoconferencing," a market that is growing briskly. The company doesn't have its own network, which means it cannot provide guaranteed quality performance for a video calls end-to-end. That means it will remain relatively small compared to giants such as AT&T, BT and Orange Business Services.

What sets Blue Jeans apart is that it has built its own video bridging technology in-house, and can stay ahead of large competitors that must rely on software releases from bridging platform makers like Cisco, Polycom and Avaya, Washburn said. With its Web browser client options and Microsoft Lync support, Blue Jeans has features that much larger competitors are still implementing, he added.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

See more by Matt Hamblen on Computerworld.com.

Read more about networking in Computerworld's Networking Topic Center.

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