Social Networking Meets Openscape UC at Voicecon 09

Adrian VoiceCon

Just  a quick reminder post –

You can see Mark Straton’s keynote and the Openscape / Twitter demo  repeated  at Voicecon TV

You can also catch the interview with Adrian Brooks covering Social Networking, Cloud and Useability by clicking on their On-Demand service.

Submitted By Darren Gallagher

OmniPresence – The Martini Principle…Again

My ideas on the next wave of UC developments…

There seem to be so many articles on which will win… but let me throw this out there – it’s not about UC vs Social Networking applications – they compliment each other perfectly.

Social networking applications provide the context for Unified Communications, and those that segregate and build a wall between private and public social applications are missing a major trick.

What if we were able to make use of hashtags and contextual information within social applications ?

After all, hashtags are widely used within communications applications  and are merely a mechanism for cataloging and enabling the ease of location of like-minded individuals, colleagues that work on the same customer account, subjects and topics and therefore subject matter experts.

The move from Presence to OmniPresence – Intelligent Unified Communications – Connected Everywhere

If we were able to harvest the presence information made within these social applications then “Unified Communications (UC)” could actually begin to mean just that !

Integrating blogs and Wikis is great too – but these information sources are contextual by their very nature.

True Unified Communications will include intelligence gleaned (and harvested from) all the new modalities – microblogging and rss news aggregation , bookmarks, friendfeeds, forums, waves, tag clouds, images and video – and will have the knowledge analytics to let you know who you should be communicating with at any given time based upon the applications view of the corporation.

Just imagine – a communications device that tells you who you need to speak to as well as the best medium and mechanism to contact them.

All interfaces will (of course) be 2.0 enabled and available on any device / anywhere.

ROI will be far easier to prove than typical IPT or UC deployments – since the above functionality will destroy the traditional barriers that slow down certain business processes today.

This is highly differentiated with other unified communications vendors whose products make the assumption that you know who you need to contact within the organisation by name or position, and can find them in the directory.

So there we go – lets see what the next 12 months brings us – it should be fun.

Submitted By Darren Gallagher

Innovation – How companies do it…or not

lightbulbGoogle stay at number 2 in the BusinessWeek 50 Most Innovative Companies ?

Was it just a Happy Accident or did they work at it ?

Google Gets Serious about Innovation

Ely Lilley created a web based ideas marketplace  called Innocentive and incent with cash rewards.

Some are still lost in the light looking for their car keys.

Submitted By Darren Gallagher

The technology leap to CBPA – the CEBP bypass

image_business_processCEBP is about the partial enabling of automation of a business process, or embedding a communications capability in to a business application.

It seems to do parts of the process in a fully automated way, but then you discover at some stage that someone gets an e-mail telling them to do something….a kind of halfway house to full automation .

In my mind, CBPA is the actual automation of the process and provides real process related tasks or work parcels to the associated  individuals or teams.

In other words, all parts of the process that can be fully automated –  really are.

Example Analogies

We could almost subtitle it as “Taking back our time spent in self-service applications” like Travel Portals, Expenses Systems, Facilities Management Portals.

You could also consider this distinction as pull (CEBP) versus push (CBPA) technologies.

Or as I prefer, the difference between a facilitator or  someone who actually delivers something, and goodness knows (in my humble opinion) – the World does not need another facilitator – human or otherwise…

Rather than receiving an e-mail or IVR call suggesting you have “something to do” –  I will try and describe what I believe to be the difference with the following example.

Example of CBPA

Imagine a product development meeting, either by video or web collaboration with voice / video.

Meeting participants agree  actions and these actions are input to the CBPA enabled business application together with owners that are taken from the corporate directory or partner company directories.

Many of those actions could be embedded and signed as hash-tags / keywords etc.
eg –
Action 1 –  David Smith to contact Phil Baker regarding the business case for security feature Stonewall of project Gotham within 5 working days.

Action 2 – Schedule a meeting with the Stonewall project team in Vienna no later than 10 days post Action 1.

Immediately action 1 is typed in to the meeting action minder, the application initiates diary matches to schedule the call with the two action owners, and adds a task to their personal organiser requesting the outcome of this future event and resolution status, and copies the Stonewall project teams organiser with the date.

Any dependencies can be added during the future call which may or may not adjust timescales, but business rules will ensure that the milestone cannot be broken or extended without higher level authority.

When the future meeting is due to take place the application will initiate the collaboration between Phil and Dave and remind them of their agenda.

Any other team participants (collaborators) and dependencies that rely upon the successful outcome of this event will be automatically notified of the results, and further meetings maybe autonomously scheduled.

For example – if the meeting on Action 2 mandated travel, best geographical location would be understood, diary entries would be made to contact the travel agent for flights and the facilities department would be communicated with for meeting room resources – conferencing requirements, such as seating arrangements, food requirements and menus.

Those not required to be there in person would automatically have resources pre-allocated on the most appropriate videoconferencing MCU and details populated in their calendar.

From the travellers perspective – details such as flight preferences , home airport, aircraft seat preferences , and dietary requirements should be harvested from the travel agent’s employee profiles.

The important thing to distinguish here is that the application does the work, the people just agree their selections as required.

A third process path may be opened to the procurement application to pre-authorise the budget for the meeting including cost centre numbers, air fare policy,hotel locations and tariffs.

Finally to ensure that the meeting owners submit their personal expenses on time, the CBPA may schedule a suitable time in the future for the process, thus ensuring that large claims are avoided and that expenses are settled in the appropriate time.

The expenses system will have had the appropriate cost centre codes automatically entered by the procurement process for the prior approved project name – Stonewall, just so long as they still have budget….

Submitted By Darren Gallagher

VC 101 – The Current Technology Landscape of Video & Conferencing

We’ve certainly come a long way since the first recognised use of videoconferencing (as opposed to CCTV) when NASA used two radiofrequency channels to communicate with the astronauts during the first manned space flights.

Advances in digital camera (CCD) and projector technology (Contrast and Brightness) , coupled with the lower cost of high-bandwidth connections are driving amazing results.

“Holographic” Telepresence


At the high end – Holographic telepresence (Musion) can project life-size high-definition hologram style images on to a specially designed “film” which allows remote participants, or animated participants to interact with live performers on stage. The “peppers ghost” effect is truly mesmerising as anyone who has witnessed Madonna performing live with The Gorillaz, or been lucky enough to be escorted through the Disaster attraction at Universal Studios in Florida will attest.

Participants who are not really “there” can and do walk in front of and behind props that are present on the stage both obscuring and revealing the objects as their image passes.

Stage sets can be built that can be as meagre as a 2m square of the Musion “eyeliner” foil type film, or as large as 20m by 100m to re-create giant life-size images of trucks for example.

The current Musion technology is being widely used for press events and launches, corporate conferences, concerts and more recently tv news channels.

Room Based Telepresence
Room Based Telepresence
The next level of High Definition conferencing can be best represented as custom room based installations.

Such technology such as Cisco Systems CTS3000, HP Halo and Tandberg T3 even includes the furniture required to ensure high quality sound and video to the meeting participants, and is usually configured in the “split table” layout – where conference participants are effectively looking at their remote colleagues on the “other side of the table”.

Telepresence as a term is usually differentiated by the use of horizontal lighting to deliver more realistic colour reproduction, 1080P cameras, spatial microphone technology with multi channel sound, and large 1080P monitors.

While arguably delivering an immersive experience this system requires significant investment by the customer. An average CTS 3000 system like the one shown above from Cisco or the Tandberg T3 equivalent, will be in the order of $299,000 per room. (not including painting both rooms similar colours, installing blinds or the cost of seating)

Bandwidth required is usually between 6-8 Mbps (3  x 1080p streams) but up to 10Mbps if it was a “busy” meeting with lots of movement.

Pure Video Software Clients

Standard Definition software clients are plentiful, and there are good reasons for this that we’ll aaddress later. Some use proprietary technology such as P2P software or codecs like Skype, others are “sign-up for for feature rich service” models like ooVoo or iVisit.

High Definition Video clients are a little more rare, probably due to the standard problems of processor, memory , video card, sound card and microphone quality available to the standard desktop or laptop.

Those developers that already have solutions that use H.264 or H.264-SVC are Mirial, Radvision with their SCOPIA offering and Vidyo (who Cisco Systems recently came to a licensing agreement with).

Most of these allow point to point via SIP or H323, or point to multi point via an MCU  (multipoint Conference Unit) such as those we use by Codian from Tandberg. Some MCU devices can accept ISDN connectivity either by way of expansion modules or built in to the main unit, enabling IP to ISDN conferences to take place.

So why is HD so tricky on laptops and desktop PCs ?

Well, leaving aside the bandwidth requirements – here are the top issues with  current software HD clients

Lights, Camera, Action !

HD requires a camera that is at least 720P or 1080P.

Now many laptops are desktop monitors are supplied with webcams built-in to the bezel, but these tend to be 1.3 or 2.0 Megapixel CCDs.

This is fine for VGA, but they rarely deal with low light conditions or display colours very well.

External HD cameras are available but at considerable cost, since they are generally sold as Small Business conferencing solutions rather than personal or individual systems.

Examples of better quality webcams are the Logitech Quickcam Pro 9000 and Quickcam Sphere (with Pan and Tilt) unless you are lucky enough to have the new Samsung LCD monitors which have the high quality optics built in to the bezel.

Echo & Noise

Most sound cards in business PCs use analogue 3.5mm jacks to connect microphones and speakers – which is fine for everyday usage and the occasional tollquality VOIP call.

However these analogue microphone and speaker connections really are not up to coping with standard or wideband voice codecs and don’t compare favourably to digitally connected professional grade components.

Full duplex audio is a must for multi-party conferences to avoid clipping and constantly missing the other party’s input.

Some software clients try very hard to overcome the echo and delay by employing noise cancelling techniques, AGC (Automatic Gain Control) and echo cancellation, to varying degrees of success.

If you are stuck with using the embedded sound card in your PC – and want to maintain hands-free participation then generally it’s better to purchase a headset.

As headset technology progresses a quality USB headset (Plantronics) with inherent sound card and DSP processing is far superior to an analogue alternative.

If you are likely to spend a lot of time on conference calls, personal conferencing speaker and microphone sets are available – such as those from Polycom or ClearOne.

These provide full-duplex audio (some support wideband) with hardware based echo cancellation and noise suppression.

Processor, Memory and More Processor

Any of the HD software clients require real power to be able to encode and decode even a single HD Video stream.

The minimum would be an Intel Dual Core, and finally these are being made available on laptop PCs without the battery draining in less than a few minutes.

As another example of the processing power needed, a single H.264 call to an MCU on a 1.7Ghz Pentium Mobile shows a Processor Utilisation in Windows Performance Monitor of 47-50%, and once connected to the called party this moves to around 80%.

Frequent processor alarms were appearing in the video window and no other applications were running.

Video cards are available that support H.264 offload processing but these generally aren’t readily available in laptops (due to the cooling required) or business PC configurations.


So how much is your download, and more importantly your upload capacity from your current ISP ?

What is the contention ratio ?

Do you have a monthly allowance on traffic with a capped service ?

All of the answers to these questions suddenly become vital when considering whether you can employ HD while working from home – which of course in these periods of economic uncertainty is exactly what you should be doing ! Reducing travel expenses and carbon footprint are top of mind for many organisations right now.

Despite H.264 efficient compression algorithms it is still subjet to the usual challenges – Compression, Complexity and Visual Artefacts.

A rough rule of thumb is that a 720p camera sending a “talking head” type scene will require between 1.5 and 2.0 Mbps of guaranteed bandwidth.

Disclaimer – This obviously depends on numerous factors such as camera and lens quality, the encoder and the complexity  of the scene.

If you wanted to send a constant 1080p quality stream you would require more like 6Mbps to sustain a high quality image.

So while download may be possible of a 720p stream in some areas,  for most home workers (who don’t have a guaranteed 10Mbps duplex connection) the choice of transmission quality tends to be more economic, such as CIF (240p) or 4CIF (480p).

And most people believe they “look” better at these SD rates too, I know I do.

Magic Wand

H.264 SVC Extension – Scaleable Video Codec could be a reasonable solution to the bandwidth issue. Without going in to huge depth here (Google is your friend) it allows for varying frame rates, quality and resolution by using layering techniques.

This means that rather than seeing immediate packet loss in the form of artefacts and picture break-up, it smooths out the speedbumps in an “elastic” way.

As mentioned previously there are only a couple of software clients available right now , but the results are impressive when viewed over lossy networks (like the Internet) in comparison with traditional H.264 AVC clients.

Since writing this piece Radvision have won TMC’s Communications Product of the year 2008 with their Scopia solution that champions H.264 SVC.

Software as a Service – Hosted Video Conferencing

Since the H.264 SVC extensions can cope with lossy networks, early adopters can provide a chargeable “portal access” VC bureau service over the Internet.

One such example being the latest service offering (launched May 15 2009)  from a UK based company called Videocall.

Their MyPresence “personal telepresence service” allows conferencing on-demand with desktop collaboration (based upon the Vidyo software platform) for as little as £3 per week.

Megameetings has a slightly different model with a monthly charge based upon the capacity required (maximum number of participants in the meeting at any one time).

This includes the ability to share applications, presentations and screens.

Tiered pricing ranges from $45 per month for a 3 person capacity limit to $499 per month for a 100 person limit.

Presumably the larger capacity is for less interactive classroom monologues or CEO broadcasts. (EGO TV)

Pricing for larger capacities are available upon application

Fuzemeeting offers a similar up-front payment based service that utilises cloud computing and virtualisation in their browser based solution.

This also means that people can take part in the web-conference via mobile devices such as iphones , symbian , palm or Windows CE – but maybe not with HD video.

The Future – 3D without the glasses ?

While processor technology takes a vacation, camera and display technology is making Moores Law look under powered.

Companies like PureDepth are ramping up production of their 20.1 and 12.1 inch 3D displays, and these don’t require those polarising glasses.

By layering LCD screens inside a slightly deeper casing, they can superimpose the stereo components of an image within one unit to provide the depth of field experience.

Alioscopy has a different approach by utilising autostereoscopic imagery in it’s 42inch plasma displays.
alioscopy eye_separation

The displays are equipped with an array of lenticular lenses that cast different images onto each eye dependant upon the viewing angle.

At the moment the consumer / home 3D tv market still requires polarising glasses.

Until  the technology becomes more cost effective, we’ll have to make do with walking past occasional 3D advertising concepts like the one at 750 7th Avenue at 50th Street in New York .


For most people with contended cable and adsl connections, HD Video is a “nice to have” but by no means necessary.

Perfectly engaging video conferencing sessions can be executed with a good quality camera at VGA quality (30 frames per second), and until bandwidth becomes more affordable and everyone has refreshed their existing computer estate with HD offload capability, monster processor and ram specifications …

I would invest the additional money on ensuring that the audio quality is the best it can be.

Related Technologies

HD Voice

I may be writing a separate positioning article on HD Voice very shortly.

Submitted By Darren Gallagher