ITU adopts new videoconferencing standard

In the 20 years since videoconferencing appeared on the IT scene, it has yet to make significant inroads into the enterprise largely because of its reliance on costly third-party operators to set up sessions.

However, new videoconferencing standards are emerging that harness the power of IP, allowing businesses to take control of the application, reduce the cost and deploy it to more users.

In September, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), based in Geneva, Switzerland, adopted a new standard for storing and finding information related to video and voice over IP (VoIP) in enterprise directories.

Dubbed the H.350, this standard was developed by the Internet2 Middleware Initiative working group – a consortium of universities working with industry and government to accelerate Internet technology.

H.350 employs lightweight directory access protocol (LDAP) to link account management and authorization automation to the enterprise directory, allowing users to scale up their user bases.

It supports H.320, the ISDN video conferencing standard, H.323, a video and VoIP standard, as well as the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP).

Adi Regev, senior director of sales engineering at Radvision Corp. explained that H.350 would be integrated into a gatekeeper – an application that administers and authenticates videoconferencing – so the gatekeeper could access an LDAP directory instead of a videoconferencing server.

The standard will allow IT to use a centralized LDAP database to store user and endpoint information instead of replicating the information and storing it in videoconferencing servers.

“By doing this you won’t have to use proprietary databases which are sold today by different videoconferencing vendors such as Polycom Inc., Tandberg, and ourselves,” Regev explained. “It makes life easier and simpler for the IT professional.”

Radvision plans to introduce an H.350-compliant gatekeeper before the end of 2004, Regev said.

However, Jill Gemmill, assistant director of academic computing at the University of Alabama in Birmingham, Ala., who helped develop H.350, said network managers can build the functionality in themselves.

For end users, the H.350 would allow faculty and students at a university, for example, to look up directories – which include personal videoconferencing access information, or VoIP information – just like they would look up a phone number today Gemmill said.

This could enable a user to set up a videoconferencing session as easily as sending an e-mail or making a phone call, enabling point-to-point videoconferencing, known as reservationless videoconferencing, and these sessions could also be set up on an ad-hoc basis.

According to Framingham, Mass.-based IDC reservationless videoconferencing accounted for just over a quarter of all videoconferencing, and offered up a profit margin of 70 per cent compared to 50 per cent for operator-assisted videoconferencing. The research firm also said worldwide from videoconferencing applications will reach US$1.1 billion in 2006 up from US$340 million in 2001.

Lawrence Surtees, an analyst with IDC Canada Ltd. in Toronto, said videoconferencing still appeals to a small market, even though it experienced a boost in popularity after Sept. 11 when a lot of businesses banned travel. However he said its popularity increase was brief and now users seem to be more interested in Web-conferencing applications.

With Web-conferencing users can hear the presenters and view files, but they can’t see the presenter. Surtees seemed skeptical that users really need to see the presenter.

“It’s the file I want to see,” he said.

Ragev disagrees. He thinks videoconferencing still has its uses in areas including e-learning and training. He said there will always be a certain element that likes the idea of being able to see an individual who is presenting.

“[Images] still have value, otherwise we’d all be listening to the radio,” he said.