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B2B Video with BCS Global

I recently had an opportunity to chat with Dan Tanel, CTO for BCS Global in Toronto, Canada (thanks Dan!). BCS Global is a managed services provider for video conferencing and Telepresence solutions, and they are building a business to business (B2B) video conferencing solution they refer to as the Public Switched Video Network or PSVN. BCS Global has infrastructure in Toronto, New York, London, Shanghai and Hong Kong.

Dan and BCS have a vision of creating a global directory for use by any company to connect to other video conferencing or telepresence users. The name, PSVN, is intended to parallel the global connectivity we enjoy today for telephony via the PSTN, by creating a similar network for video users.

The BCS Global solution addresses the connectivity, QoS and inter-carrier issues I have previously discussed in these postings and is using techniques similar to other vendors'. What I found interesting about the BCS solution is their broader focus on issues well beyond the connectivity, like the directory mentioned above. Here is Dan’s list of topics that have to be managed correctly to provide a true B2B video conferencing solution:

* Connectivity, Bandwidth and QoS
* Inter-connection between Service Providers
* Protocol interoperability
* Equipment compatibility
* Security
* Dialing Plan
* Video Managed Services Cooperation

Protocol Interop refers to the strong shift occurring from H.323-based video conferencing to SIP-based approaches. Most of the new breed of video vendors are using SIP, and it is fully supported by the traditional vendors, but most large existing enterprise video conferencing deployments continue to use the H.323 protocol. Clearly B2B providers need a strategy to allow these different systems to interoperate through a protocol translation of some kind. The consumer-focused video solutions (Skype, Oovoo, Logitech, etc.) often use proprietary signaling between clients and their cloud-based servers, again requiring some kind of gateway to interoperate. Some solutions are also using different video encoding standards, such as the H.264 SVC standard I reviewed in earlier postings.

Equipment compatibility refers to choices made by vendors about how to set up calls, what infrastructure components are required, whether calls are being dialed by users or dialed out by the bridge. There is no ‘standard’ methodology being defined by a ‘Ma-Bell’ equivalent here, so vendors are implementing different strategies trying to provide an easy-to-use interface for their target markets. This again provides incompatibilities when trying to cross vendor boundaries. In the Telepresence space this is exacerbated by having multi-screen systems with different numbers of screens (i.e. 4-screen systems talking to 3-screen systems) and many framing choices for how to bring in single-screen systems or desktops into the telepresence environment.

Security takes on a couple of different aspects. Security at the connection level is addressed at the connection point, to ensure only approved video conferencing traffic crosses network boundaries, and the security of enterprise firewall architectures is not violated. Security at the call level means being able to define enterprise policies about who can call whom and when. Many enterprises are not interested in allowing external callers the ability to dial-in to an internal conference room without some qualification (invitation, password, etc.) Other companies may have a much more open view of this, especially companies with a lot of outward facing communications (travel agents, sales functions, etc.) Customer-specific policy definition and enforcement is needed.

Dialing Plan is a concern across many B2B providers, and refers to the need for a consistent way of using globally unique addresses for connecting to a specific endpoint. Most folks, including BCS Global, agree that the right near-term answer is to use E.164 addresses (phone numbers) allocated by the ITU for this purpose. But the not-too-distant future may see us using much more of a buddy-list and presence-type dial plan (like Skype), which will mean making those presence protocols interoperate and federate so we can use this approach to dial any global endpoint.

Today many large enterprise deployments are managed through managed service providers like BCS Global. To make inter-company calling work between two companies using different managed service providers, cooperation will be required between these two management services, and some ‘standard’ way of enabling call scheduling, setup and management will need to be worked out. Whose bridge will be used for the call? Who dials out to the endpoints? Who is responsible for monitoring call quality and network quality across the multi-vendor, multi-network, multi-enterprise connections?

BCS Global has already put a cooperative agreement in place with Iformata, another managed services provider, so their customers can interconnect. So they have already had to tackle many of these issues and figure out at least the first pass answers. Their goal is to grow this collaboration to include more managed service providers and their customers to grow the pool of interconnected companies.

Dan has spelled out his vision for the PSVN in a whitepaper you can find here. I wish them luck in growing this solution to provide the global inter-business video connectivity they envision.