Virtual meetings get real

Videoconferencing goes mainstream in government agencies, with key roles in distance-learning, disaster-recovery and telecommuting strategies. Could high-resolution telepresence systems be next?

XXXSPLITXXX-XXXSPLITXXX-

VIDEOCONFERENCING, once a privilege used by military commanders
and agency executives, has gone mainstream. It is now commonly used
for legally mandated training for first responders, telemedicine
for veterans and prisoners, and remote court arraignments. Agencies
are giving it a central role in distance learning, disaster
recovery and telecommuting strategies, and efforts to improve
interagency collaboration and speed decision-making.


Videoconferencing is also one of the few information
technologies of which government was an early adopter, most notably
in the Defense Department and other national security agencies.


'Government was leading the charge for the first few
years,' said Jeff Prestel, general manager of the Video
Business Unit at BT Conferencing, an integrator and managed
services provider. 'The rest of the world has caught
up.'


The broad geographic reach of many federal agencies makes
videoconferencing a natural fit. For example, the Army Management
Staff College at Fort Belvoir, Va., which trains civilian and
military leaders, uses it for conferencing and distributed
learning, having converted an analog system to Tandberg Gatekeepers
and 1,700 desktop PC units early last year.


'The technology allows us to reach out in a virtual way
anywhere in the world,' said Pamela Raymer, dean of
academics. The college trains garrison commanders and provides
assistance to deployed commanders who can draw on the
problemsolving skills of experts. 'What we end up being is
sort of an adjunct staff to them,' said Col. Garland
Williams, commandant of the college.


Meanwhile, videoconferencing is growing faster than the overall
IT industry. Research firm Frost and Sullivan pegs the North
American market at $724 million last year, up 29 percent compared
to the previous year.


Real deal


The recent buzz is over telepresence, which is video and audio
so realistic that they create the illusion of being in the same
room. No small feat of technology, telepresence demands the best
high-definition screens. Those screens typically have 1,080-line
resolution, spatial audio (a sort of location-sensitive stereo),
unobtrusive user interfaces, intelligent controls, and cameras and
microphones ' sometimes robotized ' that pick up the
aural and visual cues that are key elements of face-to-face
communication.


Two vendors, Polycom and Tandberg, have introduced telepresence
products in recent months. In October, Tandberg unveiled the
Telepresence T3, a complete, carefully engineered immersive room.
It also introduced a single-monitor version, the T1.
Polycom's entries are the RealPresence Experience, a whopper
of a system with displays as large as 16 feet wide that can
accommodate as many as 28 participants, and the smaller
TelePresence Experience.


Telepresence manufacturers strive to make their equipment seem
to disappear. 'Our ultimate goal is to make sure you have the
feeling you are in the same room as someone else, and there's
no technology between you,' said Sean Lessman, senior
director of advanced technology at Tandberg Federal.


Tandberg has been moving toward higher-resolution screens and
making the user interface easier. Some systems even have virtual
tables, Prestel said. 'When you're in it, in about 30
seconds, you forget that you are on video,' he said.


The new 500-pound gorilla of telepresence is Cisco TelePresence.
'Cisco has totally changed the game,' Prestel said,
adding that the company might be the only vendor large enough to
create a market for the technology. 'They've got
customers thinking about an alternative way of using
videoconferencing' and they've legitimized
it.'


Cisco TelePresence rooms list for $33,900 for a one- or
two-person, single-panel system for private offices to $340,000 for
the 18-person, three-panel version. Prestel said he hasn't
sold any to a government agency but expects to soon. Corporate
customers gravitate to the $299,000 eight-seat, three-panel model.
He said his federal base has begun expanding from defense-related
agencies to civilian agencies, and state governments like video for
telemedicine, distance learning, and judicial arraignments '
most of it on traditional, standard-definition video, and some on
HD. 'Telepresence has not caught on yet with government at
any level,' Prestel said.


Organizational cultures might have to shift from outdated
perceptions of videoconferencing for telepresence to take off in
government, said Dave Rubal, Cisco's regional manager of
Federal Unified Communications. 'People really need to see
telepresence to understand the difference,' Rubal said.
'It's not the same experience.'


Basics and bandwidth


Although vendors such as Cisco say even immersive rooms promise
quick payback, telepresence comes at a price several times that of
HD What's more, desktop appliances, software and even webcams
have improved.


How do you decide which tier provides the right price and
performance? 'If quality of the meeting is most important
' say a meeting between countries or diplomats ' and
where bandwidth is readily available, telepresence is a better
option,' said Roopam Jain, an analyst at Frost and Sullivan.
'If the application is mostly for remote workers and data
collaboration is a key need, standard-definition quality will
suffice.'


HD doesn't have to be in an immersive room to provide a
major quality boost over basic videoconferencing systems and
chintzy webcams. 'In the last year, we've seen
increased adoption of HD-capable videoconferencing systems,'
said Ira Weinstein, senior analyst and partner at Wainhouse
Research.


LifeSize Communications, which pioneered HD videoconferencing
three years ago, recently released Room 200, which brings the high
resolutions and frame rates of 1,920 pixels and 1,080 pixels at 30
or 60 frames per second (fps), and at lower bandwidths of 1.1
megabits/sec and 1.7 megabits/sec, respectively.


Moving up from 30 fps to 60 fps brings greater realism, said
Michael Helmbrecht, LifeSize's director of product
management. 'Sixty frames per second is like looking through
a pane of glass,' Helmbrecht said. 'When something
moves, you don't get any blurring' or latency that can
cause people to talk over each other.


Vendors are seeking to fit video into so-called unified
communications platforms that include voice and data. On the
interoperability level, they are adding support for
Microsoft's Office Communication Server (OCS) and for public
branch exchange (PBX) and voice-over-IP hardware from companies
such as Avaya, Cisco, and Nortel.


Polycom offers VC2, a suite of products, including a
provisioning server, individualized video portals, and firewall
traversal. The idea 'is to have visual communication be part
of a person's everyday workflow'to make it like
e-mail,' said Laura Shay, director of product marketing in
Polycom's Video Systems Group.


LifeSize has a new transcoding feature that lets participants
calling from desktop webcams join a videoconference on a dedicated
stream without forcing the other systems to drop to the lowest
common denominator, a pitfall of other systems, Helmbrecht said.
'Everybody on the call gets the best experience that their
system is capable of delivering,' he said.



1. Ask vendors if they have complete portfolios of
endpoint choices. If they get there through partnerships, how tight
is the interoperability with the other company's equipment?
Beware of proprietary services and equipment that don't
conform to mainstream standards such as H.323 and SIP.


2. If you're handling most of a large installation
internally, consider products that come with automatic
provisioning.


3. Look for vendors with a global support capability.
Videoconferencing has a worldwide reach.


4. You don't need tons of bandwidth to get a decent
experience. Compression algorithms, quality of service and other
techniques turn even desktop video into a viable, conferencing
tool. Make sure products can support older ISDN infrastructure.


5. Check to see if your content management server
supports HD content. Equipment alone won't do it.


6. Remember that network access is sometimes political,
with centralized information technology departments guarding their
territory and collecting tolls on broadband. Play the game to
ensure the bandwidth you need for videoconferencing.


BT Conferencing
www.btconferencing.com


Cisco Systems
www.cisco.com


Frost and Sullivan
www.frost.com


LifeSize
www.lifesize.com


Polycom
www.polycom.com


Tandberg
www.tandberg.net


Wainhouse Research
www.wainhouse.com

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.