Telepresence, video conferencing interoperability focus is on user experience

Jessica Scarpati

Video communications vendors are inching their way toward multi-vendor telepresence and video conferencing interoperability, nudging along the technology's metamorphosis

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from an intra-company to an inter-company medium for enterprises, partners and customers.

"Video will continue to grow, but I think its big limiting factor really is you can't do multi-company video conferencing very easily," said Zeus Kerravala, a senior vice president at Yankee Group. "For video to become ubiquitous, that hurdle has to fall."

It's not just about connecting two codecs of the technology. It's about connecting two experiences.

Krithi Rao
Industry Analyst
Frost & Sullivan

Meanwhile, some high-profile vendors still snub the chance to interoperate. Cisco Systems and Hewlett-Packard are locked in an unblinking game of telepresence chicken -- each refusing to interoperate with the other's telepresence endpoints -- but that may change as Cisco acquires Tandberg, which does interoperate with HP.

But in the bread-and-butter video conferencing room systems, smaller independent vendors have been leading the way toward video conferencing interoperability by embracing standards-based technology over the past few years, according to Krithi Rao, an industry analyst at Frost & Sullivan.

"If you think about what we call the traditional video conferencing vendors -- Polycom, Tandberg, LifeSize -- I think all of these vendors have done a remarkable job at establishing interoperability," Rao said. "You should ideally be able to connect [most of their endpoints] with no issues."

 Vendors add services on top of telepresence and video conferencing interoperability

Simply getting two different systems to talk to each other has not been vendors' biggest problem with telepresence and video conferencing interoperability, Rao said, adding that almost any vendor will offer a firewall traversal or gateway solution in its video conferencing package.

Instead, vendors with interoperable endpoints struggle to ensure that multi-vendor video conferences -- dogged by differences in camera placement and other architecture -- are indistinguishable from a single-vendor video conference for customers.

"It's not just about connecting two codecs of the technology. It's about connecting two experiences," Rao said. "It's kind of the 'experience interoperability,' and I would say that's something that's still being worked out."

To enrich customers' video conferencing experiences, vendors are finding ways to add services on top of their ability to connect endpoints running on H.323, H.320, Skinny Client Control Protocol (SCCP) and Session Initiation Protocol (SIP).

Although Cisco has added almost a dozen vendor names to its video conferencing interoperability playbook, it has begun to narrow its focus on enhancing the quality of inter-company communication for Cisco users.

In November, Cisco announced a partnership with AT&T to deliver the TelePresence Directory -- a virtual phonebook to find public Cisco TelePresence rooms to rent for meetings, or so that Cisco TelePresence users at different enterprises can find and call one another by searching a name or company, or just browsing by city.

"Up to this point, a lot of the benefit around collaboration technology communications has really been focused on inside the enterprise: How do you remove inefficiencies between departments?" said Andrew Border, director of product management in Cisco's unified communications unit. "What the goal now is … is to have that efficiency with your business partners and customers as well."

Like other vendors, Cisco also integrates voice and video with its "media engine" product -- a peer-to-peer software media server that uses a traditional phone line to establish an IP path between Cisco video conferencing customers. After that first public switch telephone network connection, Border said, the software will retrace its steps via IP for voice, video and data communications.

"All I need to do is know your phone number," he said.

Integration with other business applications is where desktop video conferencing vendor Avistar Communications Corp. is concentrating its video conferencing interoperability development, according to Avistar CTO Chris Lauwers.

The San Mateo, Calif., specialty vendor is working to tap into application programming interfaces so that desktop video conferencing users can launch a session in a relevant context, such as directly through sales or billing applications, Lauwers said.

"It's taking advantage of the software focus to make unified communications no longer a standalone silo application, but instead to just make it available as a feature and capability of everything else," he said. "It really gives users a much more integrated experience."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Jessica Scarpati, News Writer

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