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BT Demonstrates Business to Business Video Conferencing

Mark Hambley, a Senior Product Manager at BT Conferencing, was kind enough to spend some time on the phone with me explaining how BT is approaching business to business video conferencing and telepresence.BT Conferencing resells video conferencing equipment from the major video conferencing vendors, and also provides managed services. BT Conferencing claims to be both network agnostic and vendor agnostic, putting together the right combination of network and product solutions for each customer. Today BT Conferencing works extensively with the BT network and with the Masergy network.

About a year and a half ago BT recognized the need for business to business video collaboration as the vendors of telepresence solutions started to gain traction. At that time they started investing in what they call their "Global Video Exchange" as a way to bring business-to-business video collaboration to the market.

As I understand it, the Exchange is a node (location) where BT Conferencing has deployed a session border controller (SBC) and a Cisco CMTS (bridge). The SBC is connected to both the BT network and the Masergy network. The SBC has the ability to connect to private VPNs in either network and pass that traffic to the CMTS bridge. This allows any participating customer with a VPN on either network (BT or Masergy) to connect to the CMTS bridge and thus conference with other parties.

BT has implemented two such Exchange nodes, one in London and one in Denver, to address the markets in Europe and in North America respectively. Note that a customer does not need to be near the node to take advantage of this capability, they just need to be using a network service provider who connects to that node.

Mark says that BT is actively pursuing additional service providers to connect into these two exchanges so that more enterprise customers can take advantage of their business-to-business calling capability.

BT is offering their clients one of three ways to connect to other companies as follows:

1) Direct dial--An endpoint user dials an E.164 address to reach thru the SBC to connect to a partner's organization

2) Calls are launched from the video exchange node (i.e. dialed out from the CMTS bridge). These calls can be dialed immediately, or scheduled for a future time via a web

3) Assisted package--A user can call the help desk, the help desk schedules the call and ensures call is launched correctly. Staff is available to ensure there are no problems with getting the call established.

I asked Mark about the recent press release BT issued saying that they had demonstrated a telepresence call between exchanges. This call was established between a BT Telepresence system and a Cisco Telepresence system using BT's Denver Exchange and an Exchange owned by Cisco in California. The teams connected the two exchanges with an MPLS link and were then able to establish a call between a Cisco endpoint and the BT CMTS bridge in Denver, and likewise connect a BT endpoint to the same bridge. Mark indicated while this was strictly a demo, BT's intention is to productize the methodology for connecting exchanges so that wider B2B connectivity can be accomplished.

*** Here is what I think:

The network connectivity (Layer 3) is probably the easiest part, and the Session Border Controller (SBC) model seems to be the answer most solutions are using. The dialing model, how to connect between different Call Managers or Gatekeepers, is a much more difficult piece and will require work. This issue is raised in my earlier post on how Tandberg views the market, as they seem to be focused on SIP-style dialing, as opposed to straight E.164 numbers.

And of course the endpoints themselves don't all speak the same protocols, and need gateways, causing further incompatibility. BT has avoided this problem in the near term by focusing exclusively on Cisco Telepresence systems. Mark indicated that they plan to provide B2B video capabilities for H.323-based endpoints as well, and have a strong commitment to that market (e.g. Polycom, Tandberg, LifeSize and others). But for now the offering is Cisco-only.