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Telepresence and Videoconferencing Exchange Providers

February 10, 2010 | Howard Lichtman
Telepresence_Exchange.jpg
A somewhat typical telepresence and videoconferencing exchange connecting disparate networks so inter-company video can flow at high quality

True telepresence requires crystal clear high-definition video to maintain the illusion that participants are in the same physical space.  Lost or delayed IP packets and/or packets that arrive out of sequence cause video codecs to seize up and display video artifacts on the screen and/or clipped sound that can annoy and jolt participants out of their immersive experience.  While most network operators have the ability to maintain exceptional quality on their own networks they need to connect to other networks to enable high quality inter-company telepresence and videoconferencing sessions with their customers' partners, vendors, and clients. 

Telepresence and Videoconferencing Exchange Providers are Service Providers that connect together disparate networks while maintaining QoS so that video traffic can flow without compromising video quality.  Many Exchange Providers are providing additional services that simplify and facilitate inter-company telepresence and video sessions between partners including: Directory Services to enable the scheduling of resources in other organizations, Security Services that implement security policies that protect the networks and organizations that connect at the exchanges, and Diagnostic Tools that can identity where problems arise across disparate networks and video network infrastructure elements.

The Human Productivity Lab and Brockmann and Company has published the first comprehensive review of telepresence and videoconferencing exchange providers.  The review is written for organizations who are interested in connecting to their partners, customers, and vendors.  We researched and surveyed the top exchange providers and managed service providers that are providing both wholesale and retail exchange services including: AT&T Business Exchange, BCS Global's Global Video Exchange, BT Conferencing's Global Video Exchange, Easynet Managed Virtual Meeting, Glowpoint's Telepresence interExchange Network (TEN), MASERGY, Telemerge, Teliris B2B On-Demand Gateway, Verizon Business' Immersive Video Exchange (VIVE). 



This article provides excerpts from the report.  The complete report is $1750.



The Telepresence and Videoconferencing Exchange Review
By Howard S. Lichtman & Peter Brockmann
 
[Excerpts]
Complete Publication Available at:
http://www.TelepresenceOptions.com/ExchangeReview


HPL_Brockmann_Handbook_Cover.jpgIn our recently published work, The Inter-Company Telepresence and Video Conferencing Handbook we defined the most significant factor to improving the utility of telepresence and video conferencing as the ability to easily conduct inter-company sessions with customers, partners and suppliers as a substitute for physical travel and as a substantial upgrade to the typical audio conference.

The main problem of connecting to partners, vendors, and customers is that they are typically on different networks with different QoS schemes, private addresses, and have different security policies.  Additionally, issues of how does one schedule inter-company telepresence calls with another organization, handle inter-operability with disparate systems, and whose MCU/Bridge will host the call must all be addressed. 

Using a model, not unlike the architecture of the Public Switched Telephone Network, telepresence and video conferencing exchange providers are making the physical connections required to connect one organization to another. Although most services are currently manually initiated, just as telephone calls were in the first half of the last century, they will become increasingly automated in setup, in reservation and in operation.

In The Inter-Company Telepresence and Video Conferencing Handbook we were first to discuss the drivers, challenges and technologies enabling inter-company visual collaboration and exchanges. Our goal was to provide a guide for forward looking organizations that saw the benefits of inter-connection but needed to better understand the business, operational, and cultural issues that needed to be addressed to create an effective program.  

Telepresence_Exchange_Review.jpgIn the Exchange Review, we provide the first overview of the technology providers who are developing solutions to enable the physical connections and provide the operational tools that enable ease-of-use including: directories, dialing plans, and end-to-end monitoring tools that pin-point problems across multiple networks.  We identify the service features to look for and provide the first feature comparison matrix highlighting how nine leading service providers are delivering exchange services today. These two reports provide a complementary view to the need for and operation of exchanges.






The Inter-Company Telepresence Context

In trying to replicate the experience of a face-to-face meeting, traditional video conferencing often fails the human brain's perceptual test and innate expectations related to interpersonal communications. Participants are tiny, the acoustics poor, the motion jerky, and the setting unnatural. In our research working with users of such systems and talking with psychologists, it also causes communications fatigue as the brain processes two incongruent inputs simultaneously: "The Medium" and "The Message".

The Medium - the observant experience itself:  the obvious TV set/flat-panel display, unnaturally sized remote participants, the visible camera, the stiffness in conversation caused by signal delay, and poor audio quality, all conspire to remind the participant that this is not a face-to-face meeting.

The Message - What is being said verbally and communicated through body language and social interactions.

The brain consciously or unconsciously objects to the conflict of trying to pay attention simultaneously to both the Medium and the Message and, quite naturally, resists the experience.

Telepresence and well-integrated HD video conferencing systems address the human factors of participants to create immersive experiences where the brain is able to accept the illusion of being in the same physical space.  The more a visual collaboration system is able to simulate a natural human interaction through life-size images, crystal clear photo-realistic resolutions, spatial acoustics, hidden cameras offering natural line-of-sight eye contact and natural collaborative tools the better the participants are able to focus on the remote participants and on what is being said increasing end-user acceptance, usage and Return on Investment.

One of the most important requirements affecting the user experience is the need for crystal clear video. Users of immersive real-time video are particularly intolerant of packets that are lost in transit or packets with widely variable delay. The video codec will not be able to process the image fluidly and the result will be random video artifacts on the screen, aka visual noise. Codec manufacturers implement a range of technologies to overcome or minimize missing packets , but clearly the network is responsible for delivering packets in sequence, without loss, variability or delay. The network plays what we have come to learn is in fact the key role in allowing tele-presence and video conferencing services to exceed the expectations of user's.

Telepresence_Pixelization.jpg

Figure 1 - Lost packets lead to pixel defects and distortion artifacts as shown.
 Image courtesy RadVision



Typical Inter-Company Visual Collaboration Problems
This sensitivity to transmission defects is why Quality of Service (QoS) is such a big issue for users and IT organizations. It's also why many leading telepresence service providers recommend independent network designs that leverage the traffic classification capabilities of the Multi-Protocol Label Switching (MPLS) service  so that packet loss, packet jitter and packet delay are minimized.

Inter-company telepresence and video conferencing services needs to overcome three major technical challenges:

a.    Network traffic classification - if two companies, with two different MPLS carriers and two different Video Managed Service Providers try to inter-connect in order to conduct a telepresence session, the six companies will be faced with reconciling their disparate network traffic classification practices. However, as onerous as that sounds, many times the network is so fast, the network is so isolated from other applications, the telepresence or video environment operates with such low utilization that the probability of congestion is low and the need for extensive concern is overblown.

b.    Addressing - some solutions, such as the Cisco TelePresence system requires the assignment of E.164 addresses to telepresence suites so that the Cisco Unified Communications Manager IP PBX can perform the session signaling, authorization and policy treatment of suite-suite sessions. Other solutions are IP-only and assume E.164-defined suites as ISDN-attached calls. Session border control appliances are appropriate for allowing public IP addresses and private IP addresses and SIP URI-defined to participate freely. Many Cisco users have learned to configure their IP PBXs to correctly process SIP or H.323 session requests involving TelePresence suites.

c.    Security - session security is a concern whenever senior corporate officers from multiple companies gather and when all communications occur over networks, which is what happens in many inter-company telepresence sessions. Inter-company telepresence and video conferencing security needs to assure privacy of communication and control access. Privacy can be assured using well-known high performance encryption/decryption implementations and by leveraging SBC infrastructure that prevents unintended traffic flows through firewalls, but allows properly conforming SIP and H.323 session flows to pass cleanly.


Typical Inter-Company Operational Problems

Inter-Company telepresence services ideally assist with these operational hurdles:


a.    Directory, Reservation, and Resource Scheduling
- Directories provide a discovery service where users and administrators discover which partners have a telepresence or visual collaboration environment/endpoint, where that capability is located, and can also reserve a session at some future time, or initiate a session immediately. However, because of the topics discussed during and high levels of executives involved in many telepresence sessions, most user organizations have different levels of visibility and permission for different facilities. Some have implemented an automated reservation application  that coordinates session resources - suites, catering, network operations - which often runs on independent platforms such as Microsoft Outlook, Lotus Notes, TANDBERG TMS or myVRM.com, for example. Managed Service Providers want to provide information that would simplify inter-company calls with their customers but many are leery about releasing the contact details of the person that is responsible for telepresence and video conferencing services. They often fear that that information would also help their competitors. Some providers are providing directory and meet-me services including both web-based schedul-ing tools and a special concierge service that interacts with the technical and facilities resources in multiple organizations to get a technically challenging conference session scheduled which may include time for testing and troubleshooting if experience with the equipment and service providers involved is particularly low.

Cisco_Directory.jpg
Cisco's TelePresence Directory has been reported to index 1200 public and private Cisco TelePresence  rooms in 80 companies and service providers.

b.  Video Network Infrastructure - Scheduling a call on the front-end between two or more organizations can create a resource problem on the back end.  Whose video network infrastructure will be used? If the call requires a usage-based service like an ISDN dial out who pays? Some exchange providers require the customer to own the MCU or telepresence switch and some providers include access to MCUs or telepresence switches as part of their service offerings.

c.  Multi-network Diagnostics and SLA Enforcement - If a call between two networks is experiencing packet-loss, an access circuit is generating bit-errors, and or an intermediary device is out-of-service, how do you know which provider is to blame?  How do you enforce SLAs for quality across multiple providers' networks?  Some exchange providers are providing tools that provide an end-to-end view of session quality to identify problem responsibility.

 Despite these challenges, many managed service providers are designing, reselling and implementing exchange services to be able to facilitate the next wave of growth in telepresence and video conferencing.


Introducing The Telepresence and Video Conferencing Exchange
Telepresence and video conferencing exchanges are the physical place where users on one enterprise and/or carrier telepresence and video conferencing network service can connect securely and reliably with users on one or more other telepresence and video conferencing networks. An exchange offers enterprise users a convenient, secure and high performance method for visual collaboration with telepresence and video conferencing users in another company, on another network or serviced by another Video Managed Service Provider.

Telepresence_Exchange.jpg

Figure 2 - The inter-company telepresence and video conferencing exchange brings disparate enterprise networks together for the purposes of secure and high performance visual collaboration between the enterprise exchange participants.

Effective inter-connectivity is more than a physical and logical connection. As shown in figure 2, in support of a modern business' use of telepresence and video conferencing services, the exchange typically delivers some number of the following services:

  •  Multi-megabit per second connectivity with imperceptible delay across the exchange
  • Logical separation so more than one enterprise can be part of the exchange, but only virtually connected when scheduled to be so connected
  • Services to overcome private-public and private-private IP addressing
  • Mechanisms for scheduled and ad hoc session initiation
  •  Directory so users of the exchange can easily discover each other
  • Meet-Me Services - The ability to schedule/request resources in partner organizations
  • Connectivity access to public telepresence and video conferencing rooms
  • Services for bridging multipoint sessions
  • Help desk support, including session initiation, monitoring, trouble ticketing, problem diagnosis and troubleshooting

Typical pricing models run the gambit of possibilities including flat rate monthly fees, per-use fees and the included-with-VMSP service or some combination of the range. Most exchanges surveyed have integrated the exchange as a feature of their service portfolio.


****  Excerpts End****

The Telepresence and Videoconferencing Exchange Provider Review is available now for $1750.   http://www.TelepresenceOptions.com/exchangereview

The Review is a follow-on report to The Inter-Company Telepresence and Videoconferencing Handbook  is available as a free download. 


Table of Contents
The Inter-Company Telepresence Context    4
Inter-Company telepresence services ideally assist with these operational hurdles:    5
Introducing The Telepresence and Video Conferencing Exchange    7
Wholesale Exchange Services    8
Services Defined    9
AT&T Business Exchange    12
BCS Global's Global Video Exchange    13
BTConferencing Global Video Exchange    15
Easynet Managed Virtual Meeting    16
Glowpoint Telepresence interExchange Network    18
MASERGY    19
Telemerge    20
Teliris B2B On-Demand Gateway    21
Verizon Business Immersive Video Exchange (VIVE)    22
Exchange Summary    23
Conclusion    24
How To Get Reviewed    25
Appendix A: The Inter-Company Telepresence Glossary    26
Appendix B: Related Research    30
Human Productivity Lab: Howard S. Lichtman    31
Brockmann & Company: Peter Brockmann    33

Please contact us for more information on the Review here: [email protected]



Inter-Company Telepresence and Videoconferencing Resources

HPL_Brockmann_Handbook_Cover.jpg"The Inter-Company Telepresence and Video Conferencing Handbook" educates CIOs, executives, managers, telepresence and video conferencing professionals about the opportunities, challenges and solutions for inter-company telepresence and video conferencing with partners, vendors, and customers.  The Handbook is a guide to reducing costs, improving individual and organizational productivity, improving time-to-market advantage, and leveraging your investment in telepresence and videoconferencing as part of your disaster recovery program in the face of war, terrorism, false flag terrorism, economic, or public health emergencies. http://www.TelepresenceOptions.com/handbook



HSL-banner3.jpg
The Human Productivity Lab will be hosting The Developing an Intercompany Telepresence & Visual Collaboration Program Conference and Working Group on April 22nd, 2010 in Reston, Virginia.  The event is for organizations looking to improve their ability to collaborate with their vendors, partners, and customers using telepresence and video conferencing and a working group where partners can get together to work out details of a joint program in a highly focused, productive environment.  Details are available at http://www.TelepresenceOptions.com/conference






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