AT&T adds Polycom's gear to Cisco's for its collaboration service

The expansion should bring tighter Microsoft Lync integration, the carrier says

AT&T will expand its Business Exchange collaboration service by adding Polycom back-end infrastructure to complement the Cisco Systems technology it's been using for several years.

Customers of the service will start to get new options in the second half of this year as a result of the partnership, AT&T and Polycom officials said. Among other benefits, Polycom's technology will provide tighter integration with Microsoft's Lync collaboration platform, they said. The carrier also is interested in SVC (Scalable Video Coding), a standard that Polycom uses for efficient encoding of different video quality levels.

"There are some things that Polycom's going to do better and other things that Cisco may do better," said Alan Benway, executive director of AT&T's Telepresence Solution business.

Interoperability among collaboration systems is growing, and both Cisco and Polycom are able to support sessions between endpoints from different vendors, Benway said. But some additional features on top of basic videoconferencing, such as document sharing, may work better between certain endpoints and corresponding back-end gear, he said.

Polycom's tight integration with Microsoft Lync will make it easier for enterprises to bring Lync endpoints into collaboration sessions with non-Lync systems, said Gary Testa, vice president of global cloud and service provider solutions at Polycom. They will be able to do so without installing special equipment on their premises, which otherwise is sometimes required, he said.

The addition of Polycom on the back end also will make mobile collaboration easier, the companies said. Today, mobile endpoints joining video meetings often have to be connected to a call-control infrastructure on a company's own premises, Benway said. AT&T plans to build out its central call-control capabilities so users can simply download an app in order to bring a mobile device into collaboration sessions over the AT&T service.

AT&T is also expanding its reseller relationship with Polycom. Enterprises have been buying Polycom gear through AT&T for years, but now they will be able to acquire that gear through so-called operating expense bundles, under which the customer pays a monthly fee for the equipment instead of buying it as a capital expense, Benway said. That technique is already offered for Cisco gear.

Cisco has been providing the infrastructure for Business Exchange since 2008, said Robert De La Mora, a senior director for collaboration marketing at Cisco. It views AT&T's move as part of a dual-vendor strategy that the carrier uses in many areas, De La Mora said.

"As with most providers in the market, they want to offer their customers choice," De La Mora said.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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