Vu Telepresence: Ready For Close-Up In SMB Video

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It hasn't taken long for Vu, which is a sister company to MSP Zenith Infotech and part of Zenith World Group, to gain a market presence in the U.S. The company was founded in 2006, debuted its channel program in April 2010, and launched into the U.S. market in October 2010. Globally, it's signed 1,500 customers and has 135 channel partners.

Vu Telepresence itself is an appliance-based solution. It comes in two flavors: Vu Telepresence Pro and Vu Telepresence Premiere, the former designed for home offices and small offices and the latter, which includes a display, for small offices, boardrooms, meeting rooms and classrooms. Each comes with an option between 1080p full HD- of 720p HD-ready, 30 frames-per-second pan-tilt zoom cameras, plus a hardware codec unit, wireless keyboard, mouse, speaker and microphone. Each offers 3,000 hours of video recording as well. Vu's VirtualFacets technology is what allows Vu to scale from HD quality to lower quality on the fly depending upon network conditions, using Vu's adaptive bit-rate codec.

For connectivity, all that's required is a 700 Kbps connection, according to Vu, which says it can maintain high-quality telepresence even without faster, T1-style bandwidth. Each location participating in a "Vu-ing," which is what Vu calls its telepresence conferencing, needs its own Vu Telepresence codec, but users can use their own display units, such as an HDMI-ready TV or HDMI monitor. Vu-ers can also use Vu's client software to participate in videoconferences using desktops or laptops.

The entire solution is intended as a plug-and-play: users set it up on their IP network, choose a Vu number, and away they go. The Pro option starts at about $2,000 to purchase outright, but is also available in a hardware-as-a-service format with payment plans through MSPs.

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"We've made it very easy," said Devita Saraf, Vu's CEO, in a recent interview with CRN in New York. "The market we're after is the SMB market. We don't want to change their complete IT infrastructure, we want to see what we can do to make telepresence and viewing someone as easy as making a phone call. It's very simple to connect. You don't need bridges and mixers."

Vu partners with MSPs and VARs, but perhaps not surprisingly, some of its most active channel partners are telecom agents, who can also bundle the Vu platform in with services and sell telepresence-as-a-service. Recently, Vu also signed on a U.S.-based distributor: East Aurora, N.Y.-based 888VoIP.

Saraf said the idea is to keep the Vu model flexible. Vu's seen success in markets such as health care, manufacturing and law firms, and also heard from customers about more esoteric applications, such as storm chasers who use the service to keep contact in high-stress environments, or matchmaking services in which potential marriage mates get to meet each other on video.

Vu, naturally, is deployed internally at the company as well. Saraf says that's the best way to get her sales team passionate about its ease-of-use.

"What would take 100 e-mails can be accomplished in 15 minutes over Vu," she said. "Every one of my sales guys has it."

Expect more from Vu this year, including new and updated products for the Vu platform. The company is also building momentum behind Vu TelePoints, which are rent-able conference rooms located in various locations around the world where partners and customers can conduct meetings and demonstrate Vu as if they were in their own offices.

The TelePoints themselves are fully managed personal meeting spaces that can be be booked online and paid for by the hour. Saraf said Vu is looking at ways to franchise TelePoint locations.

"You're making the whole world their office," she said of the service.

The timing is right for a true SMB-focused solution that's more business-centric than a Skype-plus-Webcam format but far less expensive and complex than other, more established telepresence competitors, added Clinton Gatewood, Vu's vice president of corporate development.

Vu earlier this spring surveyed SMB customers and found that about 85 percent saw videoconferencing as key to building customer relationships, Gatewood noted.

Larry Shulman, CEO of LMS Technical Services, a Farmingdale, N.Y.-based MSP, signed on as a channel partner of Vu's after experiencing Vu-ing as a customer. His initial success with Vu has meant deployment of about 50 Vu units.

"We're looking forward to watching our successes multiply as a Vu partner," said Shulman in an e-mail.