For video-conferencing users, Internet Protocol (IP) technology offers a low-cost alternative to Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN), but IP doesn’t always offer good quality or security, according to speakers at a recent industry conference.

Corporate IT departments can control their

own internal networks, but once they start making video conference calls to people from outside the company over the public Internet, it’s more difficult to guarantee quality, said Rick Perkins, product manager of Sony of Canada Ltd.

“”The Internet as it exists today may not provide the quality of service you need for business calibre video conferencing,”” Perkins said. “”Are companies doing it? Sure. They using things such as (virtual private networks).””

But in order to provide acceptable service between two points, the routers in the middle must have quality of service (QoS) functionality, he said.

Perkins made his remarks Wednesday at a seminar, titled Enhanced Productivity through Video Communications, at the IPWorld Canada conference at the Toronto Congress Centre.

Perkins outlined several key questions network managers need to ask before they roll out video conferencing.

“”What are users expecting? Are they expecting full video resolution? Are they expecting to be able to send PowerPoints with their presentations? What is your local-area infrastructure?””

Perkins said that in a 10 Megabit-per second (Mbps) corporate network, a video conference could take up about 15 per cent of all available bandwidth.

“”If you’re trying to run video conferencing over your own local intranet, what else are you trying to do? Is there data going through? You have to have restrictions on bandwidth.””

IT staff also need to ask whether their firewalls allow external video users in while ensuring the network is still secure.

Security concerns are causing some video users to shun IP stick to ISDN, said Ronald Gruia, program leader of enterprise communications for Frost & Sullivan Canada.

Gruia, who spoke at two separate IPWorld Canada sessions, said in back in 1999 that 90 per cent of video end points only worked on ISDN networks. Today, 23 per cent of video equipment revenues are for cameras and other end points that work on IP networks only. The rest of the end points support ISDN and IP.

“”There’s this frequently-held notion that IDSN video conferencing is the best thing, so IP video conferencing is having to fight an uphill battle,”” Gruia said.

But he added the market is shifting to IP because the operating costs are lower.

In addition to its lower cost, IP has the advantage of enabling applications that combine video, voice and data, said Phil Marechal, alliances manager of Polycom Inc., a Pleasonton, Calif.-based video conferencing equipment manufacturer.

“”In the past, video conferencing was a stand-alone piece of equipment on the network,”” Marechal said during the IPWorld Canada video communications seminar.

Last month, Polycom announced a co-marketing and development deal with Microsoft Corp. The vendors plan to combine voice, video and text messaging using Polycom’s equipment on Microsoft Office Live Communications Server.Their vision is one in which workers can communicate with colleagues using instant messaging, voice over IP and video conferencing without leaving their desks.

“”You’ve got three or four of your buddies, you automatically click (on desktop icons) and connect instantly to them,”” Marechal said. “”If they have audio conferencing devices, you see them and can place a call. If they have voice over IP devices, their phone automatically rings.””

Another IP application is digital signage, which lets organizations send electronic images to boards from remote locations.

Mike Deming, Sony of Canada’s new business development manager, said airports can use digital signage to send information to flight status boards, while oil companies can send third-party advertising to boards at gas stations.

Deming, the third panelist at the video communications seminar, said IP networks can allow companies to send customized content to signs, but someone needs to monitor the network from an operations centre so the right people can respond to alarms when there are problems.

Another issue is security.

“”You don’t want somebody to hack in through that box into your network and not only cause problems for the digital signs, but also for other areas”” of the network, Deming said.

IP has allowed Burger King to distribute music and monitor video cameras at some of its restaurants, said Grant Sutherland, business systems manager for Burger King Restaurants of Canada Inc.

Sutherland, who spoke at a case study session at IPWorld Canada, said most Burger King franchises have digital subscriber line (DSL) service, and the fast food chain started using IP for debit and credit card transactions.Transactions now take three to four seconds, whereas in the past, they could take up to 20 seconds, Sutherland said.

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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