Videophones Get Broadband Upgrade

By Greg Scoblete On May 17 2004 - 6:00am

The videophone is born again, owing its rebirth to the coupling of Motorola and WorldGate Communications.

During the recent National Cable and Telecommunications (NCTA) show here, the two companies announced an exclusive multi-year agreement for the development and distribution of WorldGate's Ojo personal video phone, which combines voice-over-Internet-protocol (VoIP) voice technology with the H.264 video-compression standard to deliver 30 frames per second video at near-VGA quality to other Ojo phones.

Ojo can also place video calls to computers and current-generation videophones that use the H.323 standard video standard, but video quality will drop back to H.323 standards.

The Ojo, which will makes its retail debut in the late summer or early fall, features a 4- inch by 6-inch color display screen and a 900MHz cordless handset and duplex speaker phone. The unit connects to any broadband modem (cable or DSL).

Under the agreement, Motorola will market the Ojo personal videophone under its own brand as part of its "connected home" portfolio of consumer broadband solutions, which includes the company's home phone and cable-modem product lines.

Ojo is also being shopped around to cable MSOs, telecommunications companies and other service providers, which could offer the unit as an add-on to existing data and voice offerings, said Bill Taylor, senior director of marketing, consumer solutions at Motorola.

Because the unit is internally VoIP-enabled, consumers do not technically need a VoIP service provider to use the product, just a broadband connection, Taylor said. However, they would have to know the individual IP address of the phone they were dialing if they wanted to make a video call to another Ojo user. That represents a high hurdle for the average consumer, Taylor said, making the unit's pairing with some form of service provider more desirable.

The specifics of Ojo's retail release have not been finalized, but Taylor said he envisions any number of potential distribution models, including selling the product as a standalone device or pairing it with a service offering. He pointed to the retail-MSO partnership model that was "so successful with cable modems" as a potential model.

The cost of Ojo would fall around "$600 or $700," Taylor estimated, and would initially be aimed at "premium channels" capable of adequate customer hand holding and education.

The device itself employs an enhanced version of the H.264 digital compression standard to deliver 30 frames per second video at "just under VGA" quality, Taylor said. The data rates run as low as 110Kbps, which according to WorldGate, ensures that the phone works smoothly on existing broadband infrastructures with no need for network upgrades.

It was Ojo's video quality that sold Motorola on the viability of a videophone, a concept that has made little headway in the consumer market to date, Taylor said. When paired with the advance and increasing popularity of VoIP telephony, the ground was laid for Motorola's entry.

The current Ojo platform consists solely of WorldGate technology, but Taylor said future iterations will integrate intellectual property from both companies, including possible Wi-Fi connectivity and integration with other Motorola broadband/connected home products.

"There are lots of connectivity options," Taylor said.

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