Feature Story

Inter-carrier Telepresence Takes Flight

By Paula Bernier, Executive Editor, IP Communications Magazines  |  February 01, 2011

This article originally appeared in the Feb. 2011 issue of Unified Communications Magazine

Big guns AT&T and BT have joined forces to make their Cisco (News - Alert) TelePresence solutions more widely applicable.

Brian Washburn, research analyst at Current Analysis, says that while others have announced their intentions to offer inter-provider telepresence, AT&T (News - Alert) and BT are first to take a swing at it on a commercial basis.

“Tata has already announced it will offer inter-provider telepresence with BT and with Telefonica (News - Alert), and Orange Business Services has announced that it is working on similar interconnectivity, but has not yet disclosed its partners,” says Washburn.

He adds that while it’s no great shakes to implement inter-provider telepresence from a technical standpoint, figuring out how to handle management billing between carriers can be a bit more challenging. Nonetheless, Washburn says to expect more of the same going forward.

“I believe in 2011 you'll see about a half dozen or so inter-carrier telepresence relationships supporting the Cisco TPS platform launch,” he says.To find out more about this early example, however, Unified Communications (News - Alert) Magazine conducted the following interview with Ken Scoglund, director of the AT&T Telepresence Solution, and Marc Hambley, senior product manager at BT (News - Alert) Conferencing.

What did enabling this inter-provider telepresence require from AT&T andBT's standpoint?

MH: Since this is a ground-breaking development, it took quite a bit ofdetailed work to be sure we were ready for market. We worked together on architecture, processes, and technical configuration. 

KS: The process for passing calls back and forth, ensuring we could scale this to the market's needs, and ensuring a seamless customer experience werereally the keys. It was a lot like a standard-setting process, ensuring we got the details worked out. 

MH: We also ran live trials for several months with customers to work out any kinks and to be sure we were ready to go live. Trialing the capability with live customer traffic was an important step in bringing this to market.

Are you the only telepresence providers doing this on an intercarrier basis?

KS: AT&T and BT are the first to have a commercial offering in place. This is an offer that is automated, available today, and can be scaled up. 

MH: For BT and AT&T to be the first to put a commercial capability in place makes sense since together we have the greatest marketshare for immersive telepresence systems. 

Is there an extra cost for this from the customer’s perspective?

KS: Customers do need to sign up for the service in advance.  And while there are no sign-up fees, customers would be charged an off-net rate for meetings that take place on another provider's exchange rather than their own service provider's exchange.

MH: Since this is an enhanced capability, customers understand theadditional cost for the added value. This helps customers expand their reach and gives them a greater return on their telepresence investment.

Do you see future inter-carrier telepresence being done on a one-to-one basis like this, or are there industry telepresence peering organizations?

KS: In the near term it's likely that inter-provider agreements will be done on a one-to-one basis. However, having the two market leaders establish theprocess virtually sets the standard. There are no industry peering organizations for this type of service.

MH:We would certainly leverage the work we've done here in any future agreements with other carriers. 

What else noteworthy about this?

MH: This is an exciting development – it's  like the early days of telephone exchanges, but for video. Letting customers communicate via telepresenceoutside their own enterprise helps them maximize business benefit and more quickly realize ROI. I believe this will be a big boost to video.

KS: I agree – this capability eliminates the concern customers may have about making an investment  in telepresence and getting a return on it. I think this capability will spur the adoption of telepresence.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi