IP videoconferencing winning converts

According to an informal survey of 161 out of 500 attendees at the Polycom User Group show in September, nearly half said their organizations use IP technology for videoconferencing.

Chris DiFiglia, PUG president and global video operations manager at Bear Stearns & Co., says there has been an increased level of interest over the past year in IP conferencing among PUG members looking to upgrade from traditional ISDN-based videoconferencing. He estimates that at least half of new videoconferencing rollouts are for IP-based systems, a figure he says was probably less than 30 per cent a year ago.

IP conferencing lets users offer real-time, multimedia voice, video and data conferencing over their existing IP networks, instead of having to lease and manage a dedicated ISDN network to do the job. According to a Wainhouse Research white paper, IP conferencing is more reliable than the typical 386Kbps-ISDN videoconferencing call, which is dependent on six data channels working simultaneously, each of which carriers charge for on a per-minute basis.

DiFiglia adds: “IP is a much more fault tolerant network. With ISDN, if there’s a dropped frame or picture, the entire call is dropped. An IP world is more forgiving. The worst that would happen is that the video frame would freeze for a second.”

According to Wainhouse, IP networks typically offer at least 10Mbps bandwidth to each video system, which means a standard IP video call might be placed at speeds of 512Kbps, resulting in better audio and video quality. Also, IP videoconferencing systems can be less expensive than ISDN-based systems because they do not need special ISDN-interface equipment and software. Companies can use common PCs as the basic processing engine for IP conferencing.

Polycom Inc. has offered IP videoconferencing since 1996 through its ViewStation line of group videoconferencing appliances. Wainhouse says Polycom’s share of the group videoconferencing market in the second quarter was 51 per cent, followed by archrival Tandberg with 21 per cent.

Polycom says its base of videoconferencing equipment users is split 50-50 between ISDN and IP, and that 70 per cent of new inquiries are for IP-based gear.

The Goldman Sachs Group Inc., a Polycom customer, is planning an evaluation of IP conferencing in the fourth quarter. If all goes well, the investment firm plans to roll out the technology next year at its six-building campus in New York followed by offices in London and Asia, with main deployment targeted for 2005 and 2006.

“A move to IP would give us productivity gains. We’d be able to reach decisions faster and improve communications,” says Leo Brito, vice-president of multimedia technology and services at Goldman Sachs.

Bear Stearns has used IP conferencing in its New York world headquarters for more than two years. Its national and international branch offices use a private ATM/Frame Relay-based network, but DiFiglia says they will be upgraded to IP when their existing network equipment needs to be replaced. The IP and ATM/Frame networks are connected to a bridge, which lets the different systems communicate.