GlowPoint, a major provider of on-demand IP videoconference bridging and networking services, made two announcements Monday that take the model of telephony carriers and apply it to video in ways weve not seen before.
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.
If you choose to leave a video message, you can click to record a video clip and leave it in a GlowPoint-served mailbox. The recipient receives an e-mail notification of the video message. It shows up in e-mail as a thumbnail jpeg with an HTTP link to GlowPoints password-protected video mail server. It can be played through the PC, using Windows Media, or from a video endpoint. Personalized outgoing greetings, similarly, can be video-recorded by subscribers, just as we personalize our greeting on network-hosted voice mail.
Trachtenberg sees Video Call Assistant not only as a way to demystify uncompleted video calls, but as a branding opportunity. It puts a name and a face on GlowPoint, in a more pervasive way than James Earl Jones has done for Verizon. He further sees this as a wholesaling opportunity to other carriers whod like to be “GlowPoint-enabled.” These wholesale customers might choose their own operator personalities and logos, he says.
GlowPoints Radvision video gatekeepers are used to register IP endpoints to specific DID numbers and allocate bandwidth along GlowPoints network of PRI (primary rate interface) lines to support on-demand conferencing. MCU equipment comes from Polycom and Tandberg.
Video Call Assistant is free for all GlowPoint subscribers. Video Call Mailbox is offered to subscribers for a 45-day free trial, and for an additional $19.99 per month thereafter. Video callers outside GlowPoints system still will see the Video Call Assistant videos, if they call in through GlowPoint gateways.
At the low end, GlowPoint supplies a small business with a DSL connection of guaranteed 512 K bandwidth, enough for one video call at a time, for $499 a month. You can up this to T-1 emulation, at 1.2 meg, supporting as many as three simultaneous video calls (with three DID numbers) at 384 kbps, for $799 per month.
Technology Editor Ellen Muraskin can be reached at [email protected] She has been observing and illuminating the murky intersection of computer intelligence and telephony since 1993. She reaches for her VOIP line when the rain makes her POTS line buzz.