Crestron Electronics Inc., Logitech and Polycom Inc. have added product support for Microsoft Skype for Business meetings that bolster the UC service as a low-cost option for video conferencing in small and midsize meeting rooms.
The trio introduced their latest products last week at Microsoft Ignite in Atlanta. Other announcements at the conference included improvements to Skype for Business on Apple's iPhone and Mac, as well as the continued global expansion of Skype PSTN calling.
The partner announcements were the latest in a Microsoft initiative, formerly called Project Rigel, to make Skype for Business the software for manufacturers' high-definition audio and video conferencing hardware. Microsoft launched Project Rigel, now called Skype Room Systems, at Enterprise Connect in March.
Polycom plans to launch in the first quarter of next year technology that lets conferencing systems from multiple vendors, including Cisco, join a Skype for Business meeting. Microsoft will host the Polycom RealConnect Service for Office 365 in the Azure cloud.
The cross-system support and Microsoft's expansion of Skype for Business PSTN calling boost the unified communications (UC) product's strength in a highly competitive market, said Irwin Lazar, an analyst at Nemertes Research in Mokena, Ill. "They will definitely help sell Skype for Business into larger enterprises with existing Cisco video assets."
Adoption of Skype for Business meetings
The expanded PSTN calling lets people in 17 additional countries use local numbers to join Skype for Business meetings. The expansion means people in 400 cities in a total of 90 countries can dial in using the public telephone network.
Improved PSTN calling and multivendor video conferencing could strengthen Microsoft's standing within industry trends. A recent Nemertes survey found 45% of companies were consolidating UC into a single primary platform, with more than half of that group doing so on Microsoft. At the same time, 32% of companies were increasing their use of small-room video conferencing deployments, which are a sweet spot for Skype for Business, the research firm found. Companies favored systems that cost less than $3,000 per room.
Crestron and Logitech plan to ship by the end of the year a Skype for Business meetings system controlled and managed through a customized Microsoft Surface Pro 4 tablet. Crestron is calling the new product the Next Generation Skype Room System, while Logitech is calling its system the SmartDock.
In October, Microsoft plans to release a Mac version of Skype for Business built on the Apple programming language, Swift. The software is expected to perform better on Apple computers while delivering high-definition audio and video.
Skype for Business meetings on the iPhone
Also this month, Microsoft plans to ship a much better version of Skype for Business for the Apple iPhone. The upgrade is built using Apple's recently introduced CallKit framework that gives developers access to the smartphone's native dialer.
As a result, Microsoft has added features that were once only available to cellular calls. For example, users will be able to accept a Skype for Business call via the lock screen and place an incoming call on hold while taking a cellular call. Cisco announced last month similar CallKit-built features in Spark.
Finally, Microsoft has added closed captioning for presentations on Skype Meeting Broadcast, a service used to conduct large online meetings. By the end of the year, companies using Meeting Broadcast will have the option of letting attendees choose whether to have closed captioning in English, Spanish, German or simplified Chinese.
Managing Skype for Business call quality
Preparing to deploy Skype for Business
A Skype for Business product overview