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New video conferencing tools driven by vendor partnerships

Businesses have more options when it comes to choosing the right video conferencing tools as the market shifts toward vendor-agnostic hardware and software.

If it feels like vendors are popping up with new video conferencing software and hardware offerings, it's because they are. The latest video conferencing trend is shifting vendors from offering video conferencing systems comprised of proprietary hardware and software to providing a limited set of video conferencing tools.

The shift is separating video conferencing vendors into hardware providers and software providers, creating a wider net of market offerings and opening the door to new vendor partnerships.

Vendor partnerships support universally compatible tools

Traditionally, video conferencing vendors often offered complete systems consisting of software that ran on proprietary hardware. These proprietary systems effectively forced organizations to commit to a single vendor for their video conferencing needs.

Universally compatible hardware and software aren't an altogether new concept for video conferencing tools, however. Some vendors offer USB-driven endpoints that are compatible with multiple software-based services, but these devices seldom had the power and support available in proprietary offerings. Now, vendors are funneling resources and attention to create improved universally compatible video conferencing tools, enabling organizations to pick and choose the hardware that works best for them with their preferred software, like Skype for Business or Zoom.

Vendors tightening their focus on either hardware or software video conferencing tools have created a new buying structure for organizations based on purchasing video systems centered on partnerships between different vendors. According to David Maldow, founder of market research firm Let's Do Video, this focus on partnerships was evident at Enterprise Connect 2019, where many video conferencing vendors showcased their hardware with other video vendors' software.

These partnerships are part of a growing trend known as service-attached video, where organizations can purchase video conferencing endpoints that are tied to specific conferencing software. According to Robert Arnold, analyst at Frost & Sullivan, video hardware paired with software services provides customers with more choice, as well as the ability to right-fit their environments and keep costs down. Service-attached video bundles also offer organizations simpler setup and management.

According to Arnold, these partnerships are good for organizations looking to purchase the best video conferencing tools for their needs. "The partnerships are creating powerful ecosystems that ensure higher quality, better support and improved purchasing processes," he said.

New hardware vendors enter the market

The separation of hardware and software has also opened the door for new vendors to enter the video conferencing space.

"There are a number of innovative vendors entering this market," Arnold said. Dolby, for example, partnered with BlueJeans and Highfive to provide video conferencing software with its Dolby Voice Room devices. Altia Systems entered the conferencing market with its PanaCast video hardware, which proved compelling enough to be acquired recently by GN Audio, Arnold said.

The hardware side of video conferencing tools covers a wide array of products, including cameras, audio equipment and microphones. While some vendors, such as Logitech, are still focusing on the full suite of video conferencing hardware, others are zeroing in on specific pieces of the hardware equation, such as audio.

Eliminating the need to offer both software and hardware has also encouraged traditionally consumer-focused vendors, such as Dolby, to offer video conferencing hardware in the enterprise. Focusing on hardware alone enables vendors to develop the technology they already do well through integrating new features into their hardware, such as 4K cameras with AI-enabled movement tracking. These improvements are leading to a better and more engaged video conferencing experience, according to Maldow.

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