BT Links Videoconference Systems

Attempting to bridge the archipelago of competing videoconferencing and telepresence systems, BT Conferencing, a unit of BT Group (BT), said it’s launching a managed user interface that automatically links offerings from the three major videoconferencing providers, Cisco Inc. (CSCO), TANDBERG and Polycom (PLCM). Called BT One Source, the product will be offered as part of BT’s overall managed communications package for enterprises.

Enterprise customers’ “biggest concern is how does this stuff all talk together,” said Jeff Prestel, general manager of BT Conferencing’s video business unit, in a phone interview with VON. Even when the major vendors offer interoperability, those solutions “are kludgy at best, they’re completely manual, and in some cases they don’t talk at all to each other,” Prestel added.

Interoperability has become a key issue for driving videoconferencing and its big sister, immersive room-based telepresence systems, deeper into the business market. Cisco, which said last year it will acquire rival Tandberg for $3 billion in a deal that still faces regulatory scrutiny, last month released an interoperability protocol to the public domain that allows multiscreen telepresence systems to interoperate. Cisco said it will offer license its protocol to industry participants royalty-free. LifeSize, Tandberg and RADVISION – in other words, the major videoconferencing players except for Polycom — have all signed agreements to license Cisco’s Telepresence Interoperability Protocol (TIP).

Polycom, meanwhile, has focused on penetrating the small and medium-sized business market by making videoconferencing systems simple, inexpensive, and fully interoperable. Last month the company unveiled an alliance with Juniper Networks designed to improve the reliability, cost-effectiveness and quality of the customer experience for telepresence and videoconferencing services. Scheduled for release in mid-2010, the alliance will allow service providers to maximize the capabilities of their existing network, said the companies.

None of these developments goes far enough, according to BT. “What we’ve done is made it all work together, and work simply,” asserted Prestel. The One Source system comprises a point-and-click user interface, called Engage Meeting Manager, that allows users to easily initiative a video call across multiple vendor systems, and Engage Tracker, which quantifies savings in travel costs and carbon emissions thanks to videoconferencing systems.

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