Tandberg server bridges SIP, H.323

Tandberg’s new Video Communication Server has two notable features: the FindMe call forwarding application, and call control and firewall traversal that support Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) as well as H.323.

First things first: the SIP traversal capability is good news, the only question being what took so long. If you line them up side-by-side, H.323 may win-out over SIP — and Skype may be anti-SIP and anti-H.323 — but everyone from Google to Microsoft to the open-source VoIP community is SIP-friendly.

“When I hear about SIP and videoconferencing, frankly, I think, ‘big deal’,” says Nora Freedman, senior analyst in the enterprise networks group at IDC.

The SIP/H.323 traversal is a step toward interoperability, but videoconferencing, and particularly the higher-end world of telepresence, is still a world of silos.

“We have a strategic relationship with HP,” says Mike Roussey, product marketing manager of infrastructure products at Tandberg, “and the intent and direction is to enable Tandberg systems on the HP network, but this is a work in progress.”

Roussey was specific in positioning Tandberg as moving toward interoperability for videoconferencing as opposed to telepresence.

“Each of these solutions is very proprietary,” says Freedman. “It only really works with a one-to-one relationship.”

This is likely more true of the high-end offerings from the likes of Cisco and HP Halo, which runs as a managed service off a proprietary backbone. Nonetheless, Tandberg seems to be taking the issue of interoperability much more seriously than other vendors. Work on the SIP stack has been going on for years, and end-point management systems were deployed as early as 2005.

“In 2006 SIP was enabled in multiple bridging applications at over 100 sites. We’re bringing in Nortel, Alcatel, and Cisco for interoperability,” says Roussey. “This year our goal is complete end-to-end SIP.”

Now Tandberg can brag that end-points can support SIP and H.323 at the same time, and that it supports multi-point calls without rebooting. Feature parity includes encryption, firewall traversal, call control, and bandwidth management at the gateway.

For Tandberg, however, the goal is desktop interoperability, and the FindMe function certainly does this, even moving into the possibility of conferencing over cell-phones.

“The FindMe function allows for call forwarding, and if you don’t answer it defaults to voice-mail. These calls don’t have to be booked,” says Roussey, adding, “There are already 3G mobile operators in Europe and Asia that are offering videoconferencing.”

In Canada one of the most important partners for Tandberg is Telus.

“We are the largest video conferencing provider in Canada, period,” says Frazer Couzens, Telus’s director of collaboration. Couzens is understandably bullish on the partnership with Tandberg; however, he has some added credibility given that Telus also partners with Cisco, Polycom, Nortel, and Avaya.

Telus has its sights on delivering videoconferencing over mobile phones, and here their vision fits well with Tandberg’s, given that the emphasis is on a preference for face-to-face communication as a matter of convenience and preference, as opposed to high-end telepresence for an immersed experience.

“3G gateways can take video conferencing to the mobile phone, but this is a relay race and the stars have to align, meaning we need the handsets,” Couzens says.

Couzens is confident that Telus’s EV-DO network can deliver on QOS, and IDC’s Freedman concurs that it is the carriers who will bring video to cell phones, with companies like Tandberg waiting for the hardware.

A carrier or device-centric opportunity may leapfrog the slow-uptake in specialized videoconferencing or telepresence rooms. Outside of the enterprise an obvious choice would be hotels, but it hasn’t caught on.

“It’s hard for hotels to build ROI for videoconferencing rooms,” says Freedman. “It doesn’t make sense for them to drop $20,000 a month for something that might not get used.”

Roussey claims that Tandberg’s vision is to see video communication almost everywhere in five years. The company plans to leverage its presence in the enterprise space, and specifically strengths in education (K-12) and government.

For Telus, part of the strategy lies in Tandberg’s verticalization of what many consider an essentially horizontal solution.

“They work hard to make it relevant to verticals in Canada,” says Couzens. “Tandberg FieldView is a wireless device that looks like a digital camera and will take a GPS on a dongle. They also have a product for health care that is Canadian Standards Certified (CSA). And there is a ruggedized portable solution called Tandberg Tactical that originally came out of a military application.”

Finally, price points may be converging with availability. Tandberg Movi is a pure desktop solution sold on concurrent licences, offering the same algorithms, but from a Web cam and a PC.