The First WebRTC Earthquake in Video Conferencing: Acano vs Polycom

December 7, 2015

The future isn’t what it used to be.

Earthquake damage to a road

I’ve been babbling here a lot about the enterprise video conferencing market and WebRTC’s role in disrupting it. When it first came out, I believed the existing companies are going to be struggling with it. I was mostly ignored by these companies – it is hard to see what’s just around the corner when you’re stuck in the echo chamber of your company and its immediate industry.

When I meet old colleagues of mine from the video conferencing industry and see them working in the same companies, I suggest they leave. Find another company or industry, because the outcome is known – just the timing factor is missing. They dismiss it, probably thinking that I am saying it our of a grudge to the company. I am not.

What happened in November should hit home.

We had two separate news items that in some cosmic way happened in the same week:

  1. Cisco acquired Acano. For $700M USD. A company with around 350 employees (that’s $2M per employee)
  2. Polycom announced closing its Israeli office. Moving the operations to India. That’s 200 employees + 80 contractors

Dumbing things down a bit:

  • Acano was about building a cloud MCU. Polycom Israel was about building an on-premise MCU
  • Acano started life in 2012, making immediate use of WebRTC. Polycom just launched their first MCU to support WebRTC this year (2015)

It isn’t that WebRTC is the reason why Acano succeeded and Polycom Israel has failed. It is that the mindset of these two companies was different. Acano looked into what can be done in this modern age and made use of WebRTC to get there. Polycom looked at how they slowly evolve their product offering. I am sure people in Polycom knew about WebRTC. It probably was on roadmaps and discussions since 2012, never to be given priority, because who needs it? It can’t compete with the high end systems of Polycom. But then the basis of competition changed. What customers care about changed. It isn’t anymore about resolutions and frame rates. It’s about utility and usability – something most video conferencing companies never knew how to handle.

Polycom Israel didn’t have the foresight to make themselves attractive enough to their corporate overlords in San Jose. Probably because they weren’t given the opportunity to do so. The end result? They just weren’t important. Their technology and architecture is now stable and understood enough to move it to countries with lower salaries.

I remember doing a training to developers about WebRTC in 2014. I asked people in the room what they do. There were media engineers and signaling protocols developers. I told them that they are going to be out of work. They saw it as a joke. Some of them are now updating their resume.

What is it that you are doing for a living? What is your company developing? Does it make sense? Do you take the effect WebRTC (and other technologies) have on your job seriously?

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  1. “Their technology and architecture is now stable and understood enough to move it to countries with lower salaries.”

    Wow. WebRTC is so complicated, that it requires people who demand high salaries?

    1. WebRTC is dead simple. IF you know both VoIP and Internet. Not a lot of these around. There’s a shift to cloud as opposed to on-premise.

      WebRTC is a small piece of the puzzle, but an important one. It is what brings video conferencing into the modern era of cloud.

  2. Excellent article. Often in the healthcare space, we see all those titans with their megabucks VC solutions slowly but surely being replaced with modern technologies. We started with WebRTC almost two years ago and never looked back.

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