It used to be slow and expensive, but satellite videoconferencing to remote areas is about to become better and more affordable, says a provider. A Canadian company hopes to be among those cashing in

Magor partners up to push satellite videoconferencing

A Canadian company hopes to take advantage of a new High Definition satellite videoconferencing service to remote areas that offers low latency even though it skips around the world partly through the unmanaged Internet.

Ottawa-based Magor Communications is one of two videoconferencing companies – the other is Cisco Systems Inc. – in talks with Emerging Markets Communications Inc. to leverage its upcoming commercial HD Connect On Demand service.

If successful, users of the videoconferencing applications would be able to connect directly to the Emerging Markets service. Users of software from other companies would get into the system through a browser. Either way, they would only need minutes to book time and initiate a satellite video call, enabling ad hoc conferencing.

Magor and Emerging Markets teamed up last week to demonstrate the upcoming service at a conference sponsored by Wainhouse Research, which specializes in unified communications applications.

Wainhouse senior analyst and partner Ira Weinstein, who witnessed the demonstration, was impressed, saying he saw latency of about 700 milliseconds in a call that went from the conference in Philadelphia over the Internet to Germany, and then up to a satellite to Kenya, to Hawaii via another satellite and back to Philadelphia.

“We had a one-hour video call,” he said in an interview. “I lost three packets. I see more than that when I have a terrestrial call very often. It’s hard to complain about that.”

By comparison, he said, his clients who use video over satellite HD over the Internet isn’t new, of course. What’s different is a system that can push it over satellites as well, where there are signal delays.

There are still vast areas of the globe that don’t have landline or cellular links in Africa, Asia and northern Canada. For those regions, a satellite has been used for communications. That’s fine for data, but not for videoconferencing.

In addition, Weinstein said, satellite providers’ business models often require booking time in advance, which hinders spontaneous video calls.

Emerging Markets, a satellite provider based in Miami with teleport facilities in German, Kenya and Hawaii, has found a way to turn its satellite signal on only when needed. That way, said Thomas Luketich, the company’s vice-president of video conferencing and application services, HD Connect On Demand can be relatively inexpensive.

Emerging Markets has been quietly offering the service to some of its non-governmental organization clients for a year, he said. Following the Wainhouse demo, the company has been taking commercial orders and expects its first deployment at the end of August.

An end user needs an Emerging Markets VSAT receiver dish and specialized routers, modems and switches that fill one-third of a server rack.

Luketich wouldn’t reveal how it’s priced other than to say it will be “very inexpensive.” His company still hasn’t signed all of the outlets who will sell the service. They will include communications service providers and possibly vendors like Magor, Cisco and Polycom Inc.

Potential clients are organizations that want HD or telepresence-type videoconferencing so they can judge the body language of participants.

Ken Davison, Magor’s vice-president of sales and marketing, said his company hooked up with Emerging Markets because it has been expanding around the globe. Magor makes HD videoconferencing systems that run well over unmanaged networks like the Internet, he said.

“In the last six months we’ve been penetrating places like India and Asia, so I’ve been looking for potential partnerships,” he explained. Luketich, whom he’s known for a while, mentioned that the HD Connect service would launch in the fall. That intrigued Davison, as did the fact that it would be on demand. Both thought a public demo would be an advantage.

It included a simple point-to-point call and a multi-point call with all participants using Magor endpoints.

Davison said he’s talked to Canadian energy companies operating in remote areas about using the service in the far north. Another possibility is offering it to organizations for emergency business continuity.

“What I like about this,” he said, “is we’re starting to see innovation in video beyond the codec,” (the encoding/decoding software).

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