BT Helps Videoconferencers Connect

BT Conferencing, a unit of BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA), today is touting new software that addresses two of the largest stumbling blocks for video-conferencing: interoperability and return-on-investment.

A new managed service offering, BT One Source, uses the software to let businesses easily connect video-conferencing systems across the platforms of major video-conferencing and telepresence manufacturers, including Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), Tandberg ASA (OSE: TAA), and Polycom Inc. (Nasdaq: PLCM). In addition, businesses can connect services offered by the different service providers connected to BT's Global Video Exchange. (See BT Improves Telepresence.)

The ability to connect new telepresence rooms into existing video-conferencing rooms or desktop systems "is the number-one problem people have," said Jeff Prestel, general manager of BT's Video Business Unit. "Cisco has done a great job of creating a new market around immersive video, but people want to know how they can connect those immersive video rooms into the systems they already have." The other problem BT is addressing is proving the benefits of video-conferencing, including financial savings, social benefits such as reduced carbon emissions, and strategic benefits, such as getting closer to customers or partners or improving collaboration.

Through BT's Engaged Tracker, the savings of each instance of video usage is entered and tracked, enabling a business to see where and how it is saving and if video-conferencing in different parts of a company is being under-utilized or needs to be expanded. BT also provides ways for companies to facilitate the cultural shift to use video-conferencing over business travel.

"The first big challenge for us was scheduling," Prestel said. Each video service provider had its own system for scheduling, so BT's software created a common interface that allows end users to easily connect video resources, regardless of the manufacturer, into a call, and schedule that call immediately or at a set time. The BT software, called Onward and acquired in 2008 with the purchase of Wire One, also enables easy call control, replacing clunky manual interoperability processes, Prestel said. (See BT Buys Wire One.)

The new managed service is being used internally at BT and has already been rolled out to several large multinational customers, he added. BT is expecting this new managed service to fuel much wider penetration of video-conferencing, Prestel said.

"First of all, you will see a natural blurring between immersive rooms and traditional video-conferencing," he said. "Not every customer is going to want to buy a $300,000 immersive room, but they want to talk to people via a quality experience."

Next will come a proliferation of desktop video on high-quality monitors, Prestel predicted, as virtual workers become more easily connected and end-to-end IP networks enable regular video chats.

The BT managed service offering is intended to enable companies to both better use their existing videoconferencing and expand the reach of IP video to employees, customers, and suppliers, Prestel said. Companies will be able to add other companies to their "video buddy list" if those other companies have connectivity into the Global Video Exchange via one of its existing carriers, which include BT, AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), Masergy Communications Inc. , and more.

Prestel said BT is likely to include exchange-to-exchange connections as well, as other video service providers build their own exchanges, with the end goal being a much easier and more ubiquitous video communications capability.

— Carol Wilson, Chief Editor, Events, Light Reading

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