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Startup Highfive jumps into cloud video conferencing services

Startup Highfive is betting on its low-cost room-based cloud video conferencing service with easy mobile access to win enterprise market share.

Silicon Valley startup Highfive has made its debut in the video conferencing services market with a camera- and cloud-based service that the vendor claims is simple and affordable for companies of all sizes, creating what it describes as a low-cost video conferencing room.

To create the room-based video conferencing system, the company provides customers with a high-definition camera that includes a high-fidelity microphone and attaches to a standard digital TV via HDMI and Ethernet connections. The device connects people sitting in a meeting room with people in other locations.

"There are no remote controls and no cables," Shan Sinha, chief executive of Highfive, said Tuesday in the company blog. Sinha founded DocVerse, a service that enabled users to collaborate on Microsoft Office documents. DocVerse was bought by Google in 2010.

To join a Highfive video call from outside the meeting room, a person clicks a link in the Highfive browser or mobile app to connect via a personal computer, smartphone or tablet. Highfive's capabilities also include screen sharing from Bluetooth-enabled laptops and mobile devices.

More than 100 companies, including Shutterfly, HotelTonight, NxStage Medical and Mimeo, tested the video device in the company's private beta, according to Highfive.

Now that the device is generally available, Highfive promises to ship it to new customers in four to six weeks with a 30-day money-back guarantee. The company will pay for the return postage.

The device costs $799, which is a fraction of the cost of other room-based video conferencing systems. The basic cloud-based video service is available at no charge, while the pro version of the service costs $10 per user a month.

Background on Highfive

Sinha and Highfive cofounder Jeremy Roy left Google in 2012 to launch the startup. They joined Google in 2010 when the company bought DocVerse and folded its technology into Google Apps. Sinha founded DocVerse, and Roy was the head of engineering.

The Highfive staff includes former employees of Amazon, Apple, Cisco, Google and Microsoft.

Investors in Highfive include venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz; Google Ventures; Marc Benioff, chief executive of Salesforce.com; Aaron Levie, CEO of Box; and Drew Houston, CEO of Dropbox.

Highfive joins cloud-based video conferencing competitors

Highfive's advantage over rivals, such as Cisco, Polycom and LifeSize, is in providing a much lower-cost system that can be installed in rooms with or without the help of IT departments, Irwin Lazar, vice president and analyst for Nemertes Research, said.

"Their biggest challenge will be in getting their name out there in a very crowded market, and one that has taken a beating as of late by the lackluster performances of the other companies," Lazar said. "If they can successfully market themselves as a low-cost, more flexible alternative to the incumbents, they could gain some market share relatively quickly."

The high cost and debatable value of in-room systems has left many companies on the sidelines. In the second quarter of this year, worldwide video conferencing equipment revenue fell 9% from the same period a year ago to $482 million, according to International Data Corp (IDC).

"On the bright side for the video equipment vendors, most or all of these vendors now offer, or are ramping up to offer, cloud-based video alternatives to customers -- in addition to their own lower-cost, premises-based systems," Rich Costello, analyst for IDC, said in a statement.

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