Monday, April 13, 2009

Conferencing Service Providers Meet at TeleSpan

It is the first time I was invited to speak at the TeleSpan's Future of Conferencing Workshop in Las Vegas. This year’s event gathered participants from Affinity VideoNet, AT Conference, Global Crossing, InterCall, Premiere, Verizon, etc. The vendor community was represented by Compunetix, Polycom, Citrix, RadiSys, etc. There were about 90-100 people on site and additional 30 received audio and video over streaming. A very brief impression of the event is here

My presentation “HD & Telepresence: Better Quality Audio and Video” was in the morning on Day 1, and I focus on high-definition (super-wideband, full-band) audio and its importance to audio conferencing, video conferencing, and telepresence. I summarized Polycom’s contribution to the development and standardization of new audio codecs (ITU-T G.722.1, G.722.1C, and G.719) and highlighted the main benefits of HD audio: speeding things up (less “what did you say?”), cutting through strong accents, cutting fatigue, and restoring accuracy (“fifty million” or “sixty million?”). I also talked about the benefits of HD video (immersive experience, body language, recognizing people in a large room, less fatigue, and HD content sharing) and then focused on recent advances in video network architecture that allow building scalable and manageable video networks.

Presenting in the beginning of an event is definitely a huge advantage because almost everyone came at some point during Day 1 and Day 2 to ask follow-up questions, discuss industry trends, white papers, and Polycom solutions. The hard copies of the white paper ‘Scalable Infrastructure for Distributed Video’ ( were quickly gone - which indicates that many CSPs are thinking about rolling out video services - but most of the interest was focused on the Polycom audio technology. Fortunately, we have a solid set of white papers that answer most of the audio questions: The Effect of Bandwidth on Speech Intelligibility’ (, ‘Music Performance and Instruction over High-speed Networks’ (, and ‘G.719-The First ITU-T Standard for Full-band Audio’ (will be made publically available shortly).

The audience also responded to the video network architecture part – CSPs need scalability, redundancy and failover mechanisms to roll out ubiquitous video service. All in all, CSPs were truly excited about both HD Audio and HD Video application.

The president of TeleSpan Elliot Gold opened the conference and talked about the increased number of participants over 2008. The Sandbox is a new venue for customers to play with new things rather than show ready products. TeleSpan hopes that the Sandbox will become a place to announce new conferencing products in the future.

Steven Augustino from Kelley Drye & Warren discussed the implications of the FCC ruling from June 2008 that made audio bridging service subject to the Universal Service Fund. USF is managed by Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC), It looks like the impact on the CSP industry is huge because USF fees could be up to 11% of revenues. Web conferencing shows in different line of the form and is not subject to USF while Skype has been very careful to describe their service in a way that it does not meet the “interconnected voice” definition, and in this way avoid paying USF.

David Seavers from Aonta talked about security threats. CSPs experience attacks from hackers who try to get control of audio bridges and use their out-dial capabilities to dial premium numbers in obscure countries. The service providers providing the premium number make money and often they are the ones who hack into audio bridges. The CSP industry has to work in concert to combat this problem.

Jonathan Christensen from Skype talked about Skype video and how it fits existing business conferencing. Skype claims 8% of international calling and estimates its user base at 148M in Europe, 52M in North America, 147M in Asia-Pacific, and 59M in the rest of the world. The higher adoption in EU and APAC is because of arbitrage even for local calls. USA was slower in adoption because arbitrage existed mostly on international calls. Jonathan presented statistics of video usage on Skype calls and talked about the newly announced Skype client for iPhone - as a native VOIP application in Wi-Fi mode. Even more interestingly, the client will run on iTouch – this is a device that does not make any calls today, and the use case is very compelling.

Emily Magrish from Affinity criticized the CSP industry for not creating ‘cell phone like plans for video’ and for not bundling video services with high-speed Internet services – all of that to increase adoption. People want to use video but want to get out of the management business because it is still difficult for them to do it themselves - this is a huge opportunity for CSPs. Toni Alonso supported that. The economic crisis means that companies will need to change the way they work. They have fewer resources. They are also trying to reduce their balance sheets, and managed services are a way to keep conferencing off the balance sheet. Why do so few of the CSPs offer managed services? she asked.


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