Telcos plan video conferencing exchange

Jessica Scarpati
17 Jun 2011

After decades of stagnation, enterprise video conferencing is finally taking off. Equipment and networks are better, cheaper and more reliable than ever, yet service providers have failed to deliver viable inter-carrier, B2B video conferencing services.

But a new consortium of carriers and equipment vendors seeks to change that by building a global video conferencing network exchange that aims to make B2B video as simple as a phone call.

Fourteen top service providers from around the world—including AT&T, BT Conferencing, Telefόnica, Telstra and Verizon—recently announced their membership in the Open Visual Communications Consortium (OVCC). The consortium, spearheaded by video conferencing equipment vendor Polycom, aims to apply Metcalfe's Law to video conferencing by allowing carriers to enable multivendor, multicarrier B2B video conferencing across private WANs.

"In some ways, it's like we're building the PSTN," said Jeff Cayer, group marketing manager for visual communications at Verizon Business. "And if people really believe video is the next voice, that interconnection needs to happen."

Today, enterprise customers have three ways to conduct video conferencing sessions over separate private WANs, Cayer said. One option is using the Internet to meet on a public bridge or exchange; the other two options require participants to open up a port to each other.

"[Enterprises are] not going to spend $400,000 on a room to have a great experience and use the public Internet," Cayer said. "Also, large companies that are security-conscious don't want to [expose their networks at all]."

Service providers have inked private agreements with each other to peer video conferencing networks. When Cisco Systems launched Cisco Telepresence, it ran its own B2B exchange for Cisco Telepresence customers by handling call control in its data centers, Cayer said. But Cisco wanted to get out of the service provider business and instead forged relationships with carriers, as Polycom is doing now, he said.

Increasing demand for inter-carrier B2B video services has required service providers to rethink their own strategies as well, according to Alan Benway, executive director of product marketing management at AT&T Business Solutions.

"The goal is to enable video not just to thousands of endpoints but to millions of endpoints" across multiple private networks, Benway said. "Clearly, that's what customers want. They want to use video more and more, and the more endpoints that can talk to each other, the more value there is in it for the customer as well as the service providers. So, we think it's in our best interest to work with the industry to mold and shape [its] direction."

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