A partnership between BCNet and Xten Networks Inc. aims to bring video conferencing from the room-based era to the desktop, laptop and even handhelds to further collaboration

in the Canadian university environment.

Based in Vancouver, BCNet is a non-profit society operated by BC’s major universities with the goal of developing advanced networks for the province’s research and academic communities. The group has signed an agreement with Xten, a Las Vegas, Nevada-based developer of IP-based messaging software, to test the company’s eyeBeam video conferencing solution with its member universities. Xten has its research and development branch in Vancouver.

Richard Smith, an associate professor in the school of communications at Simon Fraser University, is a member of a BCNet committee focused on collaborative technologies. Smith said given their focus, it made sense to use collaborative technologies for their meetings.

Smith said they have been trying room-based video conferencing and more recently computer-based video conferencing, including Xten’s eyeBeam solution and iChat from Apple.

“”We want to learn more about how people might use this down the road between the member institutions,”” said Smith. “”If it proves successful, then it good be used in teaching or just in administration, there’s a lot of meetings that go on as you can imagine.””

Smith said he seems a range of uses for such technology. Many universities now have remote campuses, such as SFU with campuses in Burnaby, Vancouver and Surrey. Video conferencing can help keep those groups connected while saving travel time, he said. It could also prove useful in collaboration between universities across the province.

A computer-based software solution also offers a number of advantages over room-based systems. While room-based requires special hardware, most institutions have already invested in desktop computers. And while a computer solution might be of a lower quality, it is also cheaper and can be used spontaneously, while a room-based conference must be pre-booked.

BCNet is in the early stages of testing eyeBeam, finding what configurations work best. Smith said the off the shelf version seems to be working well so far, and one advantage is the ability to work across platforms.

“”In an academic environment there’s all different types of computers, so that’s important,”” said Smith.

Xten president and COO Erik Lagerway said eyeBeam supports both PCs and Macs, and will soon work in a Linux environment as well. An open standards-based, advanced voice and video over IP and instant messaging solution based on the SIP protocol, Lagerway said the best way to describe eyeBeam is as a “”softphone””.

The solution has been licensed by large service providers like Deutsche Telekom and customized for their end-users, but Lagerway said this is the first use in Canada of a SIP-based video, voice and IM solution.

“”It takes all facets of communication: voice, video and text, and rolls them all into one using open standards compliant with anyone else using open standards,”” said Lagerway.

Lagerway said eyeBeam is being used by a number of US universities for things such as remote learning, and collaboration with students and faculty.

“”Having a rich media terminal like this on your computer allows you to communicate very efficiently,”” said Lagerway. “”Video gives you facial expressions, and a better idea of what the professor or other students are trying to convey.””

Comment: info@itbusiness.ca

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