ITU inches towards telepresence standards

Proprietary solutions have stifled the telepresence market, says the ITU's Malcolm Johnson.
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Proprietary solutions have stifled the telepresence market, says the ITU's Malcolm Johnson.

Standards-fuelled interoperability between systems is seen as a key way to drive the market, according to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

Telepresence represents an important evolution of the videoconferencing market, it says. “The trend is expected to accelerate, as mainstream video applications begin to offer telepresence features,” ITU points out.

The new work will focus on standardising full interoperability between telepresence systems, including facilitating the coherent presentation of multiple audio and video streams so that participants show correct eye contact and gestures to give a real-life like experience.

In a statement, the director of ITU's Telecommunication Standardisation Bureau, Malcolm Johnson, says: “Anyone who has used a telepresence system will testify to its remarkable quality, it truly is the next best thing to a face-to-face meeting.”

However, he says proprietary solutions have stifled the market. ”ITU's standards initiative will allow us all to profit from this remarkable technology,” he points out.

“We do not expect each end of a phone call to be dependent on the manufacturer of the phone being the same. The same should be true for telepresence.”

[EMBEDDED]Polycom, a unified communications provider, says it welcomes the ITU's efforts as it will mark a significant step in creating a new open standard for telepresence, similar to other industry standards.

According to Polycom regional manager for Africa, Dan Engel, vendors have been pushing the ITU to come up with telepresence standards. “This is because, with telepresence, many vendors use proprietary technology in their codecs, and they use different call signalling protocols.”

Engel says most telepresence vendors have been focusing on getting their proprietary systems into the hands of customers, and in most cases they end up locking them.

“Customers want new technologies to integrate transparently with their existing equipment-without sacrificing any benefits or features.” These standards will help interconnect systems in order to avoid islands of technology that can't be bridged, he says. This will give customers ability to add components from other vendors and it will greatly reduce pricing, adds Engel.

Casey King, CTO of LifeSize Communications, a division of Logitech, says: “We encourage all vendors to embrace interoperability with the ultimate goal to deliver a seamless experience for the end-user, even in multi-vendor environments".

Earlier this year, Marthin De Beer, senior vice-president of emerging technologies at Cisco, said his company's move to introduce the Telepresence Interoperability Protocol earlier this year is designed to stimulate growth in the business use of videoconferencing.

He said creating an open standard will help more businesses see the benefits of using telepresence for videoconferencing, and drive adoption of the technology.

At present, products based on established protocols including TIP and ITU-T H.323 lack interoperability due to proprietary extensions.

Jacob Nthoiwa
ITWeb journalist.

Jacob Nthoiwa is a journalist at ITWeb.

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