Verizon jumps into video conferencing space by acquiring BlueJeans

As the COVID-19 pandemic is forcing most companies to shift their operations to collaboration and video conferencing tools like Slack, Zoom, Webex and Microsoft Teams, all of these services have seen a huge jump in useage and in their share prices!

Verizon isn’t a name you’d usually think of in this suave until, maybe, now with their acquisition of Bluejeans.

BlueJeans, provide a video interoperability gateway service as well as a simple but encrypted videoconferencing platform with around 15, 000 customers. By acquiring Bluejeans, Verizon will not only be able to compete in the video conferencing space, but can also leverage its global footprint to scale the service further and assist users in areas including field service work, distance learning and telemedicine.

Verizon’s CEO, Tami Erwin, said in a press release

“As the way we work continues to change, it is absolutely critical for businesses and public sector customers to have access to a comprehensive suite of offerings that are enterprise ready, secure, frictionless and that integrate with existing tools.”

Verizon’s CEO, Tami Erwin

Quentin Gallivan, CEO of Bluejeans has said that the agreement will allow the company to “accelerate product development to innovate secure and immersive collaboration experiences for our customers. In addition, we will be able to leverage the R&D of both companies to create compelling innovations to enhance our offering in use cases like telemedicine, distance learning and field service.

Longer term?

Who know how this will develop and extend. Whether they verizon will keep this as a niche product set or if they will plan to look to compete and integrate / interoperate it with other products will remain to be seen..

What’s your thoughts?

Is Microsoft about to start tredding on the “big boys” as they acquire Affirmed Networks, to get foot into 5G software defined nefworks?

Microsoft has agreed to buy Affirmed Networks, a company that builds tools that enable software-defined networking capabilities, such as network function virtualisation (or NFV), across the emerging 5G infrastructure.

Today, Affirmed Networks provides a way for global mobile/data data carriers to grow networks to meet increasing demand by drawing on virtualised cloud based infrastructure.

Affirmed existing customers include AT&T, Orange, SoftBank, Telus and Vodafone.

Why the purchase?

This is a smart move I think, since adding 5G capability and integrated services to drive their Azure cloud busienss and in particular edge computing services like AzureStack through 5G smart networking makes a lot of sense….

This would of course help Microsoft leap forward and accelerate their Azure Cloud business by allowing them to develop and sell products/services that are more appropriate for a specific industries that focus on alway connected and edge based services in line with global network operators roll out of this new super fast 5G connectivity.

It’s all about mobile and edge computing

This acquisition has the potential, if executed correctly, to put Microsoft into a very key and unique position in the 5G world, since this now gives them a guaranteed “seat” at the table with the other major 5G telcos and other large service providers all over the world.

Not only could Microsoft use this connection to have Azure potentially serve as a core platform for 5G infrastructure, it also provides a potential capability to bring cloud computing resources running on Azure closer to the network infrastructure – speeding up and simplifying the running of cloud-based edge apps and services across 5G networks.

Is Microsoft about to tread firmly on Cisco’s Feet in the NFV space?

Of course, only time will tell how well Microsoft make use of this new acquisition and use it to drive forward with smart 5G connected Azure Services.

Cisco, has also been making significant investments in software for enabling virtualised networks (NFV) as has also been working with global telcos.

If fact, Cisco are already in deep partnership with Rakuten helping to power what many believe is the world’s first completely cloud-native virtualised telco network scheduled to publicly in Japan in May/June 2020. This will leveraging vast amounts of computing power from Intel-powered whitebox servers and will be powered by Cisco’s Virtualized Infrastructure Manager and is powered by Cisco Application Centric Infrastructure (ACI) and Nexus 9000 switches.

This blog by Cisco goes into the technical depth about how this will tech will help streamline 5G network providers so its clear why Microsoft have jumped in at this early stage too..

https://blogs.cisco.com/sp/enabling-rakuten-cloud-platform-with-cisco-nfvi-and-orchestration-solutions

What’s next?

Knowing Microsoft, it won’t be long before we hear more and I expect to see this become and feature/add on for Azure Stack in comimh months.

Regardless of what happens, though, it’s clear that there’s a new level of intensity and focus on the 5G infrastructure market that’s likely to increase over the next few years.

One thing is for sure.. This won’t be a one legged race and I expect to see more disruption in this space.

4 to 9 is not 49 but its’ a leap in the right direction for #MicrosoftTeams

There’s no doubt Microsoft haven’t been busy this past few months with some may say, it’s own rapid #MicrosoftTeams feature response took to #covid_19.

Whilst in preview for many at Microsoft for a while, Microsoft posted to twitter and the uservoice feedback site this afternoon (Monday 13th April) to announce that it will very shortly (we beleive this month) be increasing the number of participants viewed simultaneously on the meeting view from the current 4 to 9.

Teams 3×3 display (Image (C) Microsoft.)

Zoom however, lets users see up to 49 participants on a single screen

Microsoft have also said though publicly, that they are “continuing work to increase this limit even further.”

User voice update

Is this all just to compete with Zoom?

In parts I think… Yes

But… Microsoft have been working on this for a couple of years but was obviously never really seen as a huge priority (despite the number of user requests).

Bear in mind Teams isn’t Zoom, but we often compare aspects of a product with a different solution. Zoom is purely a video conferencing service (whereas Teams is far more than that… Chat, channels, co-authoring, secure collaboration and integrated into Microsoft 365).

Of late though with everyone working from home, due to #covid19, Zooms features have been priased both in both the enterprise (security noise aside) and personal space…

I think this is mainly because Zoom lets users see up to 49 participants on a single screen and whilst this is probably not practice to required for most Enterprises (but great maybe for schools and gym classes) the user community seems to think that the changes don’t go far enough to help with orgs with large team sizes….so the pressure on Microsoft to increase this further is by far from over!

Zoom can show up to 49 live video windows

Summary

Given the focus on enterprise and quality however it is likely Microsoft will put security and quality ahead of just features in this “turf war” and they have said they are continuing work to increase the limit even further “soon”.

Cisco and Microsoft report huge surge in Webex and Teams as use of Video Surges due to Covid-19

Cisco and Microsoft are amungst the two enterprise leading platforms that have seen a huge surge in usage numbers as organisations around the world move to online meetings to working and distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Microsoft and Cisco measure and record their numbers differently so its sometimes hard to compare one with the other, but the overall set of numbers are staggering.

Cisco Webex

Cisco’s has said their Web conferencing platform Webex has unsurprisingly seen a huge surge in usage numbers as organisations around the world move to online meetings to working and distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Cisco recorded a peak of record 4 million meetings in one day on March 18 2020 up almost 100% on the number of global meetings that took place before the week before the outbreak hit.

Cisco have said that in the first 20 days of March alone, they hosted 7 billion minutes of meetings on Webex (an average of 350 million minutes a day) day with the duration of the meetings typically 22% longer than usual. company also saw a drastic increase in users signing up on its platform.

Cisco also recorded a record 324 million meeting attendees last month.

Microsoft Teams

Cisco’s news comes the same week as Microsoft also announced they had seen a new peak of a staggering 2.7billion minutes in one day, a 200% increase on the previous week and the total number of video calls in Teams grow by over 1,000 % in the month of March.

Image and data from Microsoft

Turn on Video to make online meetings more natural…

Cisco, like Zoom and Microsoft have recently made Webex free during Covid-19 with a view naturally to attract new users to the platform and to help grow usage within existing business who adjust use Webex across parts of their business. This is naturally driving usage of the platforms at huge pace as most of the world works from home!

While video can’t truly replace in-person meetings, it can actually be more productive, peoplr are using video more than normal as the social distancing seems to be a new way of life for a time to come.

In Microsoft’s Remote work trend report, they state that “Researchers like Dr. Fiona Kerr have found that eye contact and physical connection with another human increases dopamine and decreases the stress hormone cortisol. Her research shows that you can even physically calm someone down simply by looking them in the eye. So as the world works remotely, it is no surprise people are turning on video in Teams meetings two times more than before many of us began working from home full-time“…

Image from Microsoft.

Summary

So turn on that video everyone…personally I find it really helps me feel ready for my day. When I went to the office I’d (try) to make myself look presentable, so just because I’m working from home for the foreseeable future why should that change… The notion of getting ready for work and expecting face to face communication certainly gets me into work mode and seeing people (even over Teams or Webex) really does make me feel more connected and less distant from the people I am used to seeing on a daily basis.

Sources: Remote work trend report & Revoult Business Report.

Teams hits 2.7 Billion Meeting Minutes in just OneDay

Microsoft, shared some updated highlights from their new Work Trend Index, a new research effort to understand how workers around the world interact with Microsoft’s productivity apps.. Key numbers below.

  • Teams hit a new daily record of 2.7 billion meeting minutes in one day, which represents an increase of 200% from 900 million in mid-March.
  • The number of weekly Microsoft Teams users on mobile grew more than 3x from early February to March 31.
  • Teams video usage in Teams meetings grow two times more than before
  • Total number of Teams video grew by over 1,000% in March.

Two new features have also started rolling out…

1. Custom background effects in video calls are now generally available and have started rolling out todaystarting today. This feature builds upon background Blur with preset and custom backgrounds, which leverages AI to blur the environment behind you

2. A raise hand feature to notify others in your Teams calls that you want to speak will also start rolling out this month,

Other features are also not far behind.. As Microsoft will be rolling out real-time noise suppression later this year along with pop out chat windows, and an end meeting feature to allow organisers to end a meeting for everyone in one click.

I’ve also seen word that participant reports are also coming that including join and leave times.

Does good’old Skype still have a place along side the new craze of Zoom and House Party in the wake of COVID-19

If COVID-19 had happened at the beginning of last decade rather than this one, all we’d be seeing in the digital social video world would be people using Skype instead of seeing everyone from gym instructors, church choirs and even government’s COBRA having calling over Zoom – even with all the recent concerns over security and privacy which have seen a number of business and other governments banning it!

According to Microsoft, Skype (this is consumer skype, not Teams or Skype for Business) is seeing circa 40million daily active users (a huge dip in the numbers they saw even 5 years ago), however, most of the newer generation seem very much in the new Party Chat or Zoom world, leaving the Skype Marketing team having to re-promote itself in light of the sudden huge wave of competition by its new “casual” friendemies on the block.

Zoom certainly seems to be on the lips of most people as the go-to service for hosting everything from business meetings to virtual pub quizzes and even weddings, there has also been huge concerns and negative press about Zoom’s privacy and security handling of user data.

It seems that team over at Skype is finally (let’s face it no one has really talked much about Skype for a while) s looking to regain mindshare by positioning itself as the safer Zoom alternative – and why not? Skype is a mature solid product that has stood the test time.

Skype is adding some new features though

Recently, Skype has been beta testing a new feature borrowed from Skype for Busienss and Microsoft Teams called “Meet Now” that gives it the same hassle-free experience being touted by Zoom users.

Skype Meet Now Screen Shot

 

Meet Now appears as a new button in the new Skype Insider build (this is the beta release and not the general version mind). Clicking this will open a window where you can see a call link that you can share with others over what ever messaging platform your choose.

The nice thing here is that anyone can join and – even users without a Skype account will be able to join and participate in the group call, but “Meet Now” also creates a regular group chat where you can send messages to other participants.

Right now, Meet Now has only been rolled out to Insiders in Beta releases and have not really advertised or promoted their capability to provide an alternative solution to Zoom which, given the security and privacy concerns could, if promoted well, re-light the Skype fire. 

The biggest hurdle to Skype had always been the need to have a Microsoft account for use which for occasional guest users was a huge pain in the bottom!  Since they have now lowering the barrier to entry by removing this requirement with Meet Now, Skype is already a more secure platform than Zoom and is offering many new features for free.

Ok – so what is still great in Skype?

  • First there’s the new Meet Now feature
  • There’s now the ability to utilise picture-in-picture when navigating away from the core Skype app with a new split-view mode
  • You can record meetings and have those recordings stored for up to 30 days.
  • You can add live translation sub-titles 
  • Its very reliable, great quality video and very secure!

What does it lack to beat the younger competition

There’s still a lot Skype lacks if you were to compare to the competition. In my view this includes:-

  • Awareness and Coolness – Skype needs to be cool again – its reputation is a bit “fossil” like now being used by the older generation and not millennials!
  • More video windows – we know Zoom can do 2×2, 3×3, 4×4, 5×5 etc can Skype, well cant do anywhere near that!
  • Custom Backgrounds – another thing that many of the other competition do – it woudl be nice to see “fun” things coming into Skype – its not a business product after all so be great if Skype made this more fun and social
  • Quizes and Games – these would be nice a nice touch too – these are things apps like HouseParty are doing really well during our COVID-19 lock-downs
  • Same look and feel across all platforms – if i look at Skype and Skype Beta on iOS, Android and Windows, the look and  feel of the app does feel very different.

New Poly Trio C60 announced

Poly (the name for the Plantronics acquisition of Polycom  last year) have just announced their new Trio C60 – the companies next generation ‘built for Teams’ conference phone that many poly fans have been waiting for.

I’m usually fortunate to get to test out a fair bit of kit from our strategic technology partners however as this is so new (with availability expected sometime in May this year), this write up is based on the info shared and announced by Poly.

For me a good test of what puts one collaboration device (in this case the new Poly Trio C60) ahead of another is about 4 things

  • How simple it is to use
  • The build quality and design
  • High Quality Audio (and Video)
  • Clever Connectivity Options

Introducing the Poly Trio C60

Firstly, I’ve not yet got my hands on a new Trio just yet, it certainly seems to ticks all the boxes and it’s (well pending)

certified for Teams (as well as others).



Simple and intuitive to use
Built on (and improving on) the great success of the previous generation of Trio and finally certified (well, will be) for Microsoft Teams (as well as Zoom and a variety of the other leading open SIP and UC&C services) it will be easy to use since it will follow the standards defined by Microsoft for Teams powered collaboration devices.  In addition the Trio C60 also includes:

  • Active proximity sensors to wake up the device  from about 3 meters away
  • Volume controls mounted on each side of the device for ease of access.

Build Quality and Design
OK so while I haven’t seen one in the flesh, the new Trio looks like the high quality premium device you’d expect from Poly.

Poly say this is designed to stand on its own as a high-quality Teams conference phone, or, it can be used to control other endpoints like the Poly Studio X Series collaboration bar or G7500 camera

It’s powered by a new Quad-core processor and runs Android 9 which Poly say will deliver  up to 4x better performance than its predecessors

High quality audio
The Trio C60 will have superb HD audio sound quality as Poly devices have always been known for this, and their patented Noiseblock filters out background noise.

Theres also optional wired expansion microphones allowing you to ‘daisy chain’ up to three devices for larger spaces



Clever Connectivity options
Poly have listed a host of connectivity options as you would expect including
  • Optional wired expansion microphones allowing you to ‘daisy chain’ up to three devices for larger spaces.
  • Will support (later this year) DECT wireless expansion mics
  • Is wireless enabled, supporting 2.4-5GHz WIFI with multiple-in multiple-out (MIMO)
  • Has Bluetooth 5.0 support
  • 1xUSB A and 1x USB C port

Summary

The attractive price point (circa £1,000), high quality and familiar design with easy to use features (and being fully Teams certified) will no doubt offer a high quality user experience for all participants.

The Teams device space is extremely competitive at the moment with new devices from Crestron, Yealink, Logitech and Poly.

I’ll update this (or add a new one) once I get my hands on one to test out and hopefully compare it to some of the other vendors such as the Yealink CP960.


You can see more at Polys’ website which I’ve included here. https://www.polycom.com/voice-conferencing-solutions/conference-phones/trio/trio-c60.html

New Teams Meeting Experience rolling out to SurfaceHub

We heard a couple months back that big changes are coming to both SurfaceHub 1 and 2S as the SurfaceHub and Microsoft Teams product groups work to continuously improve the meeting and collaboration experiences on Surface Hub.

Starting last week, updates are rolling out to the Microsoft Teams app on Surface Hub which will brings fixes and quality improvements based on the customer feedback. The most important bits are still to come though with this update preparing the hub for new features that will start rolling out later next quarter.

The update will be delivered seemlessly via Windows Update (assuming its enabled) taking the Microsoft Teams app to version 0.2020.84.4301.

The update also sees the SurfaceHub receive a new driver update to complement the Microsoft Teams experience with an improved Microsoft Teams meeting join experience after the update is completed.

Like I said most of the visual updates which we expect to include things like proximity join, improved management, allowing SurfaceHub to join a Teams meeting as a secondary or companion decide etc are coming later this year.

Ensuring the best online meeting experience when working from home during COVID-19

With COVID-19 now dominating our lives and forcing most of us to work from home with lock-downs now in place across most major metropolitan cities around the globe, we (through Cisilion where I work), have been helping our customers either get started with, or rapidly increase their use and adoption of Microsoft Teams to ensure they can stay connected, work collaborately, co-author documents and most importantly get face-time with the people they work with

The focus of this blog is around meetings since I’m sure like me online meetings is something you are doing lot of now we are confined to our homes..

So whether you are brand new to Teams or an experienced Teams Champion, this blog shares my own experiences and tips on how to have the best online meetings in Teams.


1. Use Teams to stay connected with anyone, not just those in your organisation

As the “Hub for Teamwork”, you can use Microsoft Teams to host online meetings with up to 250 people, just like you would a normal in-person meeting.  For external guests, just invite them in the same way you would normally in Outlook or Teams.  It doesn’t matter if your external attendees don’t have Teams either – they can simply click on the link (no need to download a plugin or install Teams) enter their name, and join the meeting from their web-browser or mobile phone.

Teams Guest Join Browser


Note: Teams also features Teams Live events which allow for broadcast style town-hall type presentations with Q&A, Sentiment analysis and on-demand play back for up to 10,000 (which has today been extended to 100,000 participants).

2. Built in dial-in conferencing keeps everyone connected

For users that cant get on-line or have poor internet for example, or those that just “prefer” to “dial” into a meeting, the Teams meeting invite (assuming the meeting organiser has a Audio conferencing License assigned) also includes audio-only dial-in instructions. Users can simply click on the dial-in number from their mobile phone and their phone should automatically launch the dial-pad, dial the number, and even enter the conference bridge ID. 

Teams Dial-in Conferencing

Of course, for the best experience I’d suggest everyone joins the full Teams experience – especially if you are planning to share content. 

 

3. Video,  Video, Video :  This makes a real difference when we can’t do physical face-to-face.

Since you can’t meet people in person anymore due to COVID-19 lock-downs or when just working from home / remotely anyway, meeting online with video makes a a huge difference and I strongly advise to make all calls video by default.  Encourage everyone in your Teams meeting to turn on their video. If your device supports it, I also suggest turning on background blur to keep the focus on you instead of what’s behind you (especially if your home office is a “make shift” space). 

4. Share Share Share – screen, apps or presentation.

When in a Teams call or meeting, you can share/present content in Teams. You are in control at all times as to what others can see. You can decide whether you wish to share

  • Your entire desktop (or screen)
  • A specific window/application
  • Upload a PowerPoint presentation directly into Teams – so attendees can review/mark-up and event advance slides
  • Start / Open a digital whiteboard for real-time collaboration like you would on a normal pen and ink board in a meeting room – more this next.
Sharing in Teams

If you or someone else is sharing their desktop or an application, any one else can “request” that the presenter gives control – you can also take it back at any time!

If you are sharing content that has audio/video within it, you can also choose to have the system audio shared/included.

5. Whiteboard the hell out of your meetings

I love a whiteboard me! When I’m in a face-to-face meeting, I cant help but draw and scribble on a whiteboard and usually find other meeting attendees love to draw and annotate on a board when planning a project or approach to something.

This is where Office 365 and Teams come to life – Microsoft Whiteboard, as well as being available on the web and via a App on Windows and iOS, is also integrated and available in every Teams meeting, enabling meeting attendees to join in with their pen and touch (our mouse and keyboard) and collaborate / contribute in real time with digital ink.

These Whiteboard sessions are saved as part of every meeting and available for future use and reference and can even be opened outside of the meeting directly in the Whiteboard app – which provides a host of additional features too.

6. Make the meeting on demand too – Record it live!

Teams can also (if enabled by your admins) record your meetings for you. Instead of relying on a summary email only or “I’ll update you later” conversation – you can simply record your Teams meeting.

The recording captures everything, video, screen share, presentations, whiteboard, everything and unlike Skype for Business (RIP), the meeting is stored in Office 365 Cloud with a link provided within the meeting chat / or Teams space.

What’s more, attendees of the meeting can also search the meeting (yes it transcribes the audio to text) and jump to the point in time of the meeting where a particular phrase or topic was talked about.

7. Live Captions helps with Accessibility

While today only available in English, every call and meeting in Teams support real-time live captioning allowing participants to read subtitles. 

This is a game changing feature for any attendees who may be hard of hearing,  or have different levels of language proficiency. More languages are rolling out shortly we are told.

8. Finally – Secure and Control your meetings

Making sure only the people you intend to join your meeting can join, participate and see content is key – after all you wouldn’t let a random person into your office and into your in-person meetings unless they were invited.

Teams provides meeting organisers with options to allow them to define the roles and permissions for attendees of their meetings. These can also be set and controlled in part by IT admins at a organisation level if needed.

Meeting organisers can choose to (or not to):

  • Enable the meeting lobby feature (its on by default), which lets the organiser define when and who is admitted into the meeting  – this can include automatically people from your organisation but not guests, allowing or not allowing PSTN dial-in users to automatically join etc.
  • Designating who can present, mute attendees, and start/stop recordings.

Privacy is a right within Teams and is always secure

Teams does not disclose things like IP addresses or computer names or any other information that could identify the machine or user to anyone not specifically invited and all recorded content is under the control and access by the organiser / presenters.

Finally – if your organisation uses technology like Data Loss Prevention (DLP) to protect sensitive or GDRP type data, then these polices also flow into Teams, meaning confidential or sensitive data not allowed to be shared outside your business still cant – even in Teams! – this is not covered in depth here by the way!

Stay safe, stay in doors and work smart!

Thats it from me – hope you find this useful. Look forward to hearing how you are getting on during COVID-19 lock down.

Thanks

Rob

Microsoft says their Cloud Usage has jumped 775% due to COVID-19

Microsoft’s Azure Cloud and Office 365\Teams collaboration services have seen a significant, in fact colossal, spike in usage over the past week as companies globally continue to deal with an increase in remote workers due to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak and lock downs that are being put in place to help control the infection rate and curb the impact on the world’s health services like our incredible NHS.

Microsoft said yesterday that in the last week it has seen a 775% increase in the use of its cloud services in regions where enforced social distancing and lock downs have been put in place such as here in the UK, most of Europe and many States in the US.

Microsoft Teams is seeing more than 900 million meeting and calling minutes per day.

Microsoft had  previously stated just last week that they was prioritising traffic for critical front line and public services such as NHS as well as also tuning and reprioritising services to cope with this unprecedented demand. This includes prior temporary limits on free offers (outside key workers and NHS for example) to prioritise capacity for existing customers and the downgrading of video in Teams for example to help manage traffic. Microsoft has said that these limits are typically being isolated to regions/locations that are seeing the most demand and that customers impacted can use alternative regions to get around some of the performance hits while they even out and scale out their services to handle the new demands.

Last week, Microsoft has some issues with adding new services to Azure in some regions, including the UK which caused them to “drop below the typical 99.99% success rates.”. This was caused by the huge surge in new Azure Virtual Desktop services being spun up as organisations looked to quickly enable remote desktop to facilitate homeworking after the UK mandated work from home as part of the UK Covid19 lock down measures.

COVID-19 sees huge demand and growth

Microsoft said last week that Teams has “seen a very significant spike” in usage and counted more than 44 million daily users. This week new numbers have revealed that last week they also saw more than 900 million meeting and calling minutes per day.

Windows Virtual Desktop has also seen a 300% increase in the last week with hundreds of thousands of new Desktops being added globally.

Other collaboration platforms like Cisco’s Webex and Zoom have seen similar surges in network traffic tied to the COVID-19 outbreak.

It’s not just Microsoft though…

Microsoft of course isn’t the only Web conferencing provider seeing such growth. Other collaboration platforms including Cisco Webex and Zoom have seen similar surges in network traffic tied to the COVID-19 outbreak.

Cisco has also reported large growth and demand and said Webex traffic from China had increased by more than 2,000% since the outbreak began and that more than 30% of its enterprise customers have reached out for help getting their employees set up to work from home.

Since the start of the outbreak, Microsoft, Zoom and Cisco have made their platforms available for free to most businesses affected by COVID-19 and are having to work relentlessly to expand the capacity of their services to ensure as few disruptions as possible…. All have had growing pains and as the lock downs continue globally, it probably won’t be the last time!

Continue reading “Microsoft says their Cloud Usage has jumped 775% due to COVID-19”