IP videoconferencing offers cheaper, more stable option than ISDN: user

Two years ago, venture capitalists MDS Capital Corp. used to pay stacks of money for a low-quality ISDN-based videoconferencing service.

“It was unstable; it would go down right in the middle of calls,” said Jacki Jenuth, director of business intelligence at Toronto-based MDS, of the ISDN (Integrated Services Digital Network). Then MDS would have to call the bridging provider, who would have to set up the videoconference again.

Because bridging is expensive, a single videoconference would cost MDS thousands of dollars, Jenuth said. As a result, MDS didn’t use videoconferencing nearly as much as it would have liked to. MDS has weekly meetings with its partners and its investors, who were spread out in different locations across the continent and the globe.

To address this problem, MDS switched to an IP-based videoconferencing solution from BCS Global Inc. in 2003. Because BCS’ service is subscription-based, with no pre-booking required, MDS can now conduct as many videoconferences as it needs — all without incurring additional costs. Also, BCS’ service runs over Sprint Inc.’s high-speed network, so MDS gets better speed and resolution than with a dialup ISDN-based service, which topped out at 384Kbps.

Brownlee Thomas, principal analyst for telecom at Forrester Research Inc. in Montreal, said with all the hype about converged voice, video and data networks, the only area that has really sparked widespread interest is videoconferencing. This is because IP-based videoconferencing is much cheaper and of much better quality than ISDN.

However, because it’s a niche market, traditional telcos have gotten out of the hosted videoconferencing business, she said. Other companies that offer IP-based videoconferencing in Canada include ACT Teleconferencing Canada Inc. and GlowPoint Inc., which has Toronto as its only area of Canadian coverage. With the service from BCS, MDS’ associates from Vancouver, Montreal and its U.S. offices in Cambridge, Mass. and Palo Alto, Calif. meet in a virtual boardroom, which is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They have two virtual boardrooms: one displays the image of the person at the location who is speaking and the other displays four people at the same time. Jenuth said the bridge will automatically adjust to display the individual who is talking.

Piero Romani, CEO of BCS Global in Toronto, said it can be configured to display up to 16 people at a time, and 25 concurrent users (locations) can participate in a single videoconference. Users can also share documents during a conference, however this needs to be set up beforehand.

Although initial setup costs were about $60,000 for the head office in Toronto and $20,000 each for the other offices, Jenuth estimated MDS will save between $30,000 and $40,000 per year on videoconferencing by switching to BCS. The initial cost included videoconferencing units from Polycom Inc. as well as plasma and CRT displays and projectors. “Compared to ISDN bridging, a customer using 12 to 14 hours of ISDN per month would be saving money by using a BCS service,” Romani said.

MDS picked BCS two years ago because there weren’t a lot of providers of IP-based videoconferencing at that time. “We found it had a competitive price and a flat rate; those were the things that nailed it for us,” Jenuth said. “We knew they were small at the time and there were risks, but since we’ve been with them, it has been stable.”

Additionally, Jenuth said MDS is receiving excellent technical support from BCS. BCS pushes out updates to the Polycom equipment. BCS Global offers the service in Canada, the U.S. and in the U.K.

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