Its Better Than Being There

Teleconferencing services expand with streaming, planning, more features to power remote meetings

When actually being there is more than you want to achieve, a teleconference can be the solution—and a number of vendors and carriers are spinning out service enhancements to make remote meetings more productive.

Last week, WorldCom Inc., of Clinton, Miss., unveiled myriad Web-based teleconferencing features, including streaming capabilities, Web-based conference planning and global expansion. The enticements are meant to complement the old-fashioned audio conference but not supplant it, officials said.

WorldComs Conference Webcast streaming service will expand the reach of teleconferences to PCs on a network. It will allow presenters in multiple locations to stream data and audio to hundreds of participants, who can then respond in real time via their keyboards.

To make call planning easier, WorldCom next month will offer Net Conferencing, which will integrate its scheduling system with Microsoft Corp.s Outlook. Customers will be able to download the scheduling system to Outlook and book calls directly from their desktops. The service will automatically mark the call on the users Outlook calendar and provide a prebuilt e-mail form for participants.

The fastest-growing market for conferencing is the international arena, driven largely by the increasingly global nature of business. In addition, cultural barriers and regulations hampering the development of teleconferencing overseas are breaking down. To meet increasing international demand, WorldCom is expanding its global services with toll-free access to U.S. calls from participants overseas and with local access numbers in several European cities for participants on European calls.

While most of the largest carriers offer their own varieties of conferencing, smaller rivals are trying to capture market share with innovative alternatives. Octave Communications Inc., of Salem, N.H., specializes in "unattended conferencing," which gives service providers or enterprise users the ability to operate their own calls. "Wouldnt it be nice if you could organize your own conference any time you want, anywhere you want, without an operator?" asked Rob Scott, founder and chairman of Octave, which has been enabling such contact since last year.

Octaves conferencing platforms, which are custom-designed for service bureaus, carriers, Competitive Local Exchange Carriers, Internet telephony service providers, application service providers and enterprise customers, allow as many as 1,344 participants on one call.

Last week, Octave partnered with Valid Information Systems Ltd., a document management technology provider based in Ilford, England, to offer new voice recognition software that transforms a spoken record or multiparty conversation into a text file. All participants on a conference call can have a searchable record of the conference on their computers.

Approximately 60 percent of Octaves business is located outside the United States, and Scott anticipates continued high growth in this market. Last week, London-based British Telecommunications plc. signed a two-year contract to spend more than $20 million for Octaves OCI 1000 conferencing systems for its new reservationless service. Called BT Meet Me, the service can be controlled via the Web.