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IP-based videoconferencing ensures increased reliability, bandwidth and manageability


Johannesburg, 02 Jul 2002
Read time 5min 20sec

Enterprises are increasingly under pressure to do more things with fewer resources. People with dispersed team members or offices, customers and partners find that travelling for face-to-face meetings reduces their productivity and they yearn for an alternative way of communicating.

Many have recognised the potential for visual communications yet, in the past, found the implementation and management of technologies such as videoconferencing too complex and costly to justify deployment. However, organisations are beginning to realise videoconferencing holds tremendous potential for improving the way people communicate.

In the following article, Andy Bull, director for Mitel Networks Limited South Africa, discusses how this holds true, especially for IP-based videoconferencing

The advent of IP-based videoconferencing with associated higher reliability, increased bandwidth and manageability has removed some of the barriers to the adoption of videoconferencing. However, one of the biggest remaining barriers to videoconferencing is the user experience.

Building upon the experiences and technologies developed for circuit-switched networks (such as ISDN) and proprietary IP-centric conferencing solutions, a complementary and far more flexible suite of products and services is emerging today.

These and other innovations specifically optimised for packet networks are already included in the "umbrella" H.323 protocol. The H.323-compliant market reflects investments of a community of companies co-operating to provide complete solutions for conferencing on IP networks. The spectrum of solutions extends from conference rooms into network devices and even out to the desktops of individual users.

For example, telephony-like `supplementary` services such as call transfer, call forward, hold and hunt groups, are now possible in IP-based videoconferencing networks.

As a result of continued deployment of network infrastructure around the globe and in enterprises, there is also more IP bandwidth available at a lower price, and the bandwidth is more manageable than in any earlier communications network. Converged voice and data networks are gaining momentum and offer a transport option for video as well.

Unlike the ISDN network paradigm which charged customers a per minute usage charge, IP networks are considered more suitable for a flat "all you can eat" cost model. There are other cost benefits with IP videoconferencing associated with the fact that the management for the underlying IP network is already cost justified for data applications and that the network termination and packetisation hardware is ubiquitous.

Integrating Video Conferencing into IP Telephony Solutions With the launch of the Mitel Networks Voice FirstT solution, a revolutionary new concept integrating video conferencing capabilities into Mitel`s market leading IP telephony products, the user experience is squarely addressed and video communications is made as easy as the "touch of a button."

With Voice First, Mitel Networks has removed the last remaining obstacle to the widespread adoption of video conferencing, ease of use by making the set up of a video conferencing session as easy as placing a phone call.

Until the availability of Voice First solutions, videoconferencing terminals, be they group or individual desktop systems, have required the user to learn a new user interface before initiating and being productive during a video call. Some user interfaces appear on a monitor and navigation is performed using a handheld remote control to move from menu to menu and select options from any individual menu. Other applications, based on PC operating systems, rely on a keyboard and mouse for call initiation and control.

In addition, users (of non-Mitel systems) have been required to confer in advance of a video session to exchange the "phone number" (for ISDN) or IP address of the terminal to be called.

By leveraging the most ubiquitous and intuitive interface available to the business customer, namely a telephone, Mitel Networks` Voice First eliminates the need for user training, exchanges of dialling information in advance of calls and a range of technical support services associated with the use of complex communications devices.

The software application supports IP Quality of Service and the Interactive Multicast technology that enables an end user to multicast from the videoconferencing application to users on any multicast-enabled IP network.

Mitel`s Voice First is a breakthrough solution that will significantly improve common business processes. In the conference room, the applications for video enhanced communications include group meetings for project management and review. Board meetings are regularly conducted between remote locations via a videoconferencing service. At the desktop, the Voice First solution offers an unprecedented immediacy and ease of use. The convergence of voice, video and data made possible with Voice First will most quickly benefit those people in an organisation who need to enhance business relationships and voice meetings with visual information.

Although long promoted as the primary advantage of videoconferencing, the reduction or replacement of business travel by videoconferencing is a relatively short term and tactical view of this technology.

Voice First is key to enhancing the most widely used and customary communications device : the telephone handset. The immediate benefits of Voice First are that it makes a richer experience possible without raising the need for training, additional management personnel or higher expenses. With Voice First, the benefits of videoconferencing will be accessible to any size of enterprise.

Once the capabilities of videoconferencing are not longer limited to large enterprises and the FORTUNE 100, they will permeate value added supply chains, enhancing communications between companies that to date have relied solely on voice and data for their business activities.

The Mitel Networks application level solution leverages the power of IP networks, IP telephony and videoconferencing technologies to offer a tightly integrated and improved user experience anywhere in the enterprise.

Before the Voice First solution, collaborators could never be sure when video might add value. With Voice First, people may begin their meeting with voice and, in an ad-hoc manner enhance their communications with voice and video.

Voice First

Voice First fuses the synergy of a voice, video and IP networking experience by integrating IP video PBX functionality into Mitel`s existing market leading IP telephony solution. The software solution combines a video PBX with a remote management server, H.323 gatekeeper and online directory in the first-ever suite of integrated client/server applications and services designed to facilitate enterprise-wide real-time interactive, visual communications.

At the user`s office or in a meeting room, all that is required for Voice First is a Mitel Networks IP Phone and a videoconferencing end point. Mitel Networks 5020 IP Phones provide the call launch signalling, the audio capture (via telephone handset or hands-free microphone), echo cancellation and the speaker for receiving audio from other parties.

On the personal computer in the user`s office, administrators need only add a Windows-compliant software application and the Mitel Networks 5750 Desktop Video Appliance, a USB compression camera. The combination of software and compression camera offer customers the ability to conduct real-time interactive videoconferences up to 1.5 Mbps, exchange data files and to collaborate using an electronic whiteboard.

In the meeting or conference room, a 5310 Boardroom Conference Unit is employed in conjunction with a 5760 Videoconferencing Appliance. This combination of products fully supports group videoconferencing experiences without requiring a personal computer. The elegant set-top Mitel Networks 5760 Videoconferencing Appliance features include IP and ISDN videoconferencing up to 512kbps at 30 frames per second full screen resolution over IP and 384kbps over ISDN, T.120 data conferencing support. Once sites are video-enabled, a user in a private office with a 5020 IP Phone or a meeting room with a 5310 Boardroom Conference Unit begins by dialling another party in the conventional manner.

When another party is also video enabled with the Mitel Networks 5700 Voice First application, a light appears on the handset or boardroom conference phone. Through the seamless integration with the 3300 ICP and 5700 Voice First Application, an IP videoconference is established with the simple "push of a button."

Mitel Networks

Mitel Networks is a market-leader for voice, video, and data convergence over broadband networks. With a focus on the user experience, the company delivers advanced communications solutions that are easily customised for individual business needs. Through intuitive desktop appliances and applications, businesses are provided with innovative ways to manage information and resources. Vertical markets benefit from integrated solutions that protect existing investments while enabling new ways to be more cost effective and productive. With over 30 years of expertise, the company is delivering a new, more simplified form of convergence, with clear benefits to the end user. Mitel Networks is headquartered in Ottawa, Canada with offices, partners, and resellers worldwide. For more information please visit www.mitel.com

Editorial contacts
Alison Bull Communications Alison Bull (011) 783 0594 abcomms@iafrica.com
Mitel Andy Bull (082) 559 8688 andy_bull@mitel.com
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