Microsoft, BT launch global conferencing alliance

Companies to link audio and Web conferencing services

Microsoft is stepping up its efforts to muscle market share in the Web conferencing market, with its announcement on Monday of a global strategic alliance with European telecommunications provider BT. The agreement is an expansion of an existing arrangement BT held with PlaceWare before it was acquired by Microsoft last year.

The deal announced this week integrates BT's audio conferencing services with Microsoft's Office Live Meeting  in an effort to simplify collaboration, lower costs, and leverage each vendors' reach and customers, according to representatives from both companies.

As part of the deal, BT also will deploy Live Meeting across its own organization following a pilot that spanned most of BT's past fiscal year. BT uses Live Meeting predominantly in Europe, but uses both Live Meeting and WebEx in the United States.

The deepened alliance with BT is one of several telco relationships Microsoft has renewed after its acquisition of PlaceWare. In February of 2004 Microsoft announced a partnership arrangement between Live Meeting and InterCall and in May signed a similar deal with MCI. Microsoft representatives describe the relaunched partnerships as "deeper," and higher level than the arrangements the telco partners held with PlaceWare.

The BT partnership aims "to drive the reach and adoption of Live Meeting globally. Telcos have great reach," said Jennifer Callison, director of Real Time Communications marketing at Microsoft.

Callison described the BT alliance as a "high potential relationship," involving an extended commitment in joint sales and marketing.

"There is synergy in BT's integrated communications strategy and multiple Microsoft technologies," Callison said. "So we now have a relationship and potential commitments that wouldn't have been possible as part of PlaceWare."

Telco relationships, which provide access to existing audio conferencing customers, are strategic to Microsoft's efforts to gain market share against the market leader WebEx, which carried 67 percent of the Web conferencing services market share last year, according to a Frost & Sullivan report.

"One of the top markets for Web conferencing is existing audio conferencing users," Callison said.

Forthcoming integrations between BT and Microsoft include linking audio controls between Live Meeting and BT to control things such as mute functions, and the capability to schedule Web conferencing and audio meetings -- with a customer's preferred telco -- at the same time, according to Callison.

BT also has a strategic relationship with WebEx and plans to continue to offer both WebEx and Microsoft Live Meeting services to its customers, according to Brenda Tretherne, director of product management for BT Conferencing. Similar to its integration with week with Microsoft, BT is currently working with WebEx to link up voice and Web conferencing services, she said.