Polycom, carriers to tie videoconferencing systems

Verizon, AT&T, Telefonica and other carriers aim for a global, interoperable network

Polycom, a maker of unified communications equipment, has joined several major carriers around the world to form the Open Visual Communications Consortium (OVCC), intended to make it easier to link one videoconferencing system to another.

By defining a common architecture, the OVCC aims to allow easier collaboration between organizations and their partners and customers who may use different service providers and different brands of equipment.

At its launch on Wednesday, the OVCC was set to include more than a dozen service providers, including Verizon Communications, AT&T, Telefonica, Telstra, Global Crossing, and Cable & Wireless Worldwide.

If successful, the organization could effectively form a global exchange among carriers and interoperable videoconferencing systems that would give enterprises the confidence that they could link up with others using compatible service providers and devices.

The interoperability will span products ranging from immersive high-definition telepresence rooms to standard-definition systems, as well as compatible desktops and mobile devices.

Polycom helped to define the architecture, which defines guidelines such as for the integration of videoconferencing platforms into carriers' operations and business support systems (OSS/BSS), said Sudhakar Ramakrishna, Polycom's executive vice president and general manager of unified communication solutions and chief development officer.

The architecture is based on industry standards where possible, and where standards are not available, Polycom is helping carriers agree on a particular approach, Ramakrishna said. For example, there is no standard format for call detail records, which service providers need to be able to split up revenue, nor for defining guaranteed service-level agreements, he said.

Polycom has worked to make its enterprise videoconferencing systems interoperate with those of Cisco and other vendors by adopting industry standards, Ramakrishna said. The OVCC extends those efforts to interoperability among service providers.

"We are taking that beyond just peer-to-peer enterprise communications by enabling service providers to deliver a set of services to the largest possible number of enterprises," Ramakrishna said.

The key protocol in use will be the commonly used SIP (Session Initiation Protocol), he said. Polycom chose a set of specifications and submitted that to the carriers for feedback, he added.

"These are open specifications. They are not proprietary to Polycom," Ramakrishna said. Once the OVCC is established as a legal entity, it will make the specifications freely available, he said.

Any device that supports the right protocols and demonstrates interoperability can be certified to work with other OVCC carriers and systems, he said. Polycom expects more vendors to create products that comply with the specifications.

"We don't expect this to be an all-Polycom network," he said.

The OVCC will be opened up to new members starting in the second half of this year. Enterprises should be able to take advantage of the global video exchange starting in the middle of next year.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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