GlowPoint Inc., based in Hillside, N.J., is determined to make IP videoconferencing–which, of course, includes IP voice—as natural and intuitive as telephony alone. Does anyone make an "appointment" to make a phone call? They did once. Does anyone need an operator to make a conference call? Not anymore; they just dial into a bridge.
Companies still commonly reserve on-site or off-site conference rooms and operators to make videoconferences, however, because a lot of things stand in the way of their success in the hands of everyday users. Transport compatibility is one; many systems are still run over ISDN (128 kbps) telephone lines, bundled in threes to get a 384 kbps–smooth-running, 30-frame-per-second–video signal.
Newer systems pipe voice and video over IP networks. Sophisticated MCUs (multipoint conferencing units) are needed to transcode between ISDN and IP video endpoints. ISDN connections are notoriously difficult to make through U.S. telephone company central offices, requiring several different interfaces.
GlowPoint takes care of the transcoding problem in its bridging and networking service, where ISDN video endpoints are gatewayed into an IP network through ISDN direct-inward-dial (DID) numbers at one of 14 POPs on three continents. Think of the VOIP provider model, giving each subscriber a local phone number for the un-VOIPed to use.
GlowPoint expects its enterprise subscribers to just pick up the remote control on their videoconference systems, speed-dial to an endpoint or two, and conference at will. It encourages extensive use by offering a flat-rate, "all-you-can-see" plan that include the last mile of broadband access. (ABC News, covering the Democratic National Convention, ran an uninterrupted GlowPoint video call of 164 hours from Boston to New York, from 22 different Boston hotels, so the control room could decide which feed to select for its broadcast.)
Other evolutionary steps along GlowPoints carrier path include live video directory assistance, for three dollars a pop, to find out peoples video phone numbers and connect. Dial "000," and GlowPoints live operator appears on the screen. Live visible help is also there for tech support.
The latest extensions of this model were announced Monday, with Video Call Assistant and Video Call Mailbox. GlowPoint calls Video Call Assistant a "call-completion system." What it really appears to be, in a live demo at headquarters, is a set of prerecorded, visual and helpful equivalents for busy signals, unanswered rings, network outage messages and video mail menus, delivered by a visible, friendly human operator. Her name is Lisa. She looks and sounds way better than Ernestine.
David Trachtenberg, GlowPoint president and CEO, notes that about 25 percent of video calls dont reach their intended recipient; a number that probably compares favorably with voice calls. But with telephony, theres a standard network way of representing telephone busy signals or no-answers, regardless of phone make.
Not so with video endpoints. If the far end of your call is busy or the monitor is not turned on, you may get a cryptic "unable to pass gatekeeper" message, depending on the bridge and the endpoint youve used. GlowPoint Call Assistant video responses normalize the differences in his subscribers endpoints, Trachtenberg says. "Lisa" now tells you why the call cannot go through. She goes on to leave you with a menu of choices, one of which can be leaving video mail.