Conferencing GUI Stands Out at Supercomm

Opinion: A real-time display by IBM solves a common problem in audio conferencing by letting you know who's talking.

A lot of IP telephonys productivity-enhancing applications face an uphill adoption battle. They must wean users away from a lifetime habit of using handheld receivers and then drag them, kicking and screaming, over to their PC screens.

Not so for the application prototype I saw demonstrated at last weeks Supercomm conference by Fred Spulecki, director of global voice and call center infrastructure for IBM in Atlanta.

This app would grab users by the eyeballs, because it shows the efforts of behavioral scientists and graphic artists in solving a true business problem: figuring out whos talking (and whos listening) at any given time on a conference call.

Spulecki demoed the audio conferencing prototype GUI at EntNet, the Enterprise Networking and Services conference held inside the Supercomm show in Chicago.

/zimages/3/28571.gifClick here for more news on VOIPs role at Supercomm.

Its certainly a visual aid Id like to see supported by any conference bridge. The browser-based representation of an audio conference resembles an old-fashioned game of marbles, with colored marbles in a circle.

Each marble is labeled with the name of the participant it represents. The center and one wedge of the circle are highlighted. The speaker is represented by the marble in the center of the circle; the one whos queued up to speak next is represented by the marble in the wedge. "Marbles" enter and leave the circle as participants enter and drop off the conference.

Spulecki demonstrated the conferencing app alongside the IBM workplace communications portal, an IBM staffers always-current, presence-informed, click-to-dial company phone directory, IM client and audio conferencing configuration tool all in one.

IBM employees send four million instant messages to each other every day, he noted, and being able to escalate a chat to a voice call—or better, drag-and drop from LDAP directories into conference calls—is just the lowest-hanging fruit on the VOIP productivity tree.

/zimages/3/28571.gifWebEx recently integrated its Web conferencing service with a major telephony vendors IP communications platform. Click here to read more.

"We can do this today with CTI [traditional, LAN-to-phone-switch] programming," Spulecki said of the audio conferencing display. But this involves expensive integrations with particular TDM (time-division multiplexing) switches in order to know which lines are in or out of conference, and which are sending media streams at a given time.

But, he added, "If we take the underlying infrastructure and virtualize it, and to the degree that open standards such as SIP, Simple, WSDL, SOAP and XML are finalized and implemented," developers can more easily come up with voice functions such as conferencing that can be integrated with useful GUIs.

Open standards also will ease the standards integration into other business applications and support across different bridge platforms.

/zimages/3/28571.gif Check out eWEEK.coms VOIP & Telephony Center at for the latest news, views and analysis on voice over IP and telephony.