Microsoft Looks to Bring Skype Meeting into More Rooms

With "Project Rigel" and other efforts, Microsoft is teaming up with Polycom and Logitech to expand the reach of the video conferencing technology.

Skype Meeting

Microsoft wants to expand the reach of its video conferencing technology, and it's teaming up with long-time partner Polycom and Logitech to make it happen.

At the Enterprise Connect 2016 show this week, Microsoft officials announced a couple of initiatives designed to bring the software vendor's Skype Meeting technology to the 97 percent of meeting rooms in the world that are not equipped for modern video conferencing. That isn't good for business, according to Zig Serafin, corporate vice president of the company's Skype Business Services unit.

"For meetings to be as effective and engaging as possible requires web and video conferencing with features like screen sharing, IM and whiteboard," Serafin wrote in a post on a Microsoft blog. "Without these capabilities, people lose the benefits of rich interaction, remote participants have a sub-optimal experience and the whole team is less productive due to longer meeting startup times."

Microsoft is making its push at a time when the market is moving away from expensive hardware units and more toward software- and cloud-based offerings. Most other collaboration technology vendors also have efforts underway to capture some of those meeting and conference rooms that don't have modern video capabilities. Right now many of those rooms—some of which are dubbed "huddle rooms''—are equipped with traditional projectors or displays, with a telephone being used for remote participants, Serafin wrote.

At the show, Microsoft officials announced "Project Rigel," an initiative to bring Skype Meeting technology to any meeting room that has a display or projector. Through Project Rigel, the company will bring the Skype Meeting experience that was developed with the Microsoft Surface Hub to such rooms. It will use devices running Windows 10 for center-of-room touch control and Skype for Business online meeting technology to enable easy connection with remote participants.

Polycom and Logitech will certify some of the hardware in their respective portfolios can be used for Project Rigel, Serafin wrote. Among the systems that will be certified are Polycom's RealPresence Trio and CX5100 systems and Logitech's ConferenceCam Connect (unveiled in January), ConferenceCam Group and PTZ Pro camera.

In addition, both Logitech and Polycom will build products optimized for Project Rigel. Logitech will offer a purpose-built smart dock to help connect the various system elements in the meeting room, while Polycom will roll out a portfolio of systems for the project. The first systems based on the Microsoft project will come in the second half of the year, Serafin wrote.

It's a smart move. The Surface Hub, which has yet to be released, is expected to be expensive once it launches, pricing many companies out of the market. Bringing Skype Meeting to other systems will enable companies that normally would not be able to afford the Surface Hub to take advantage of the software on less-expensive hardware.

In addition, Microsoft is working with Polycom to bring Skype Meeting not only to more Polycom systems, but also to in-room teleconferencing systems from other vendors, such as Cisco Systems. Polycom will update its RealPresence Group Series products to include both Office 365 integration and a user interface for Skype Meeting.

Polycom also will run a Cloud Video Interoperability service that will be hosted in Microsoft's cloud that will enable teleconferencing systems from Polycom, Cisco and others to connect to Skype for Business meetings in Office 365 that will include audio, video and content interoperability, Serafin wrote.

Both of those offerings with Polycom also will be available in the second half of the year.

Polycom officials touted the company's long relationship with Microsoft and said the new offerings will help businesses and their employees get more productivity out of their meeting rooms.

"Polycom and Microsoft share the belief that these forlorn spaces can and should be equipped to let employees enjoy the richness that true visual collaboration brings: enterprise quality audio, video, and content sharing," Ashan Willy, senior vice president of worldwide systems engineering and product management at Polycom, wrote in a post on the company blog.