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Surf Communications Solutions Aims to Slay the Video Giant
[January 30, 2013]

Surf Communications Solutions Aims to Slay the Video Giant

Originally posted on VoIP & Gadgets Blog, here:

att-picturephone.PNGVideo conferencing has held promise for many years - dating back to the 1964 AT&T Picturephone, but now has the time finally arrived for video conferencing to take off The simple answer is "yes", but it's way more complicated than that. Yes, standards like SIP and H.264 have made video interoperability between endpoints less of an issue, but there are other issues to consider. For instance, Polycom, Cisco, Avaya, and LifeSize have very expensive MCUs for their in-room conferencing systems. The typical small-to-medium business cannot afford it.

So then SMBs consider free alternatives like Google Hangouts, Skype, or BlueJean Networks. The problem with cloud-based offerings, especially when doing >2 video participants is the amount of bandwidth required to go up into the cloud/Internet and then back down to each participant. The video quality is at the mercy of the public Internet and the amount of bandwidth you have. Further, none of these solutions offer standards-based security like SRTP or TLS.

That's where Surf Communications Solutions comes into play with their Orion Video Conferencing System (Orion-MCU), a videoconferencing MCU designed with the SMB in mind. They support all the popular video phones, in-room video conferencing systems, but they also support the hot new trend of BYOD. Whether you use an Apple iOS device, Android device, or webcam on your laptop, Surf supports it. They offer iOS and Android apps to enable mobile users to join 16-way (or less) video conferences. As long as the device supports SIP, Surf can support it, but they also support H.323 for legacy video systems. You can use Orion's built-in SIP registrar or have it register as a PBX extension, so it's pretty flexible.

Now, the interesting part. The MCU and all the software is loaded onto a PCI Express (PCI-e) card! You can stick it into your existing PBX and leverage the power supply and chassis of your PBX. The card has DSPs for transcoding/encoding of video that give it helps it attain up to 16-way video participants and up to 500 voice-only conferences. They also offer an appliance for those that want a standalone unit, that can offer higher video participant limits.

One feature of note is the ability to have conferences of some voice participants only along with video/voice participants. Surf says this is a unique feature that their competitors don't have. They have an XML-based API for developers. The API has support for "dominant speaker" for instance, where you can give active speaker the largest video window. You can create your own layout, change menus, and more using the API. They also have a text-based API for lower-level hardware control. A moderator dashboard gives control of the video conference. Unlike cloud-based video solutions Surf supports security standards such as SRTP and TLS. Surf said they have deployments in Department of Defense (DoD) where security is paramount.

Orion-MCU provides an optimized Quality of Experience (QoE) for mobile participants including an on-the-fly Adaptive Bit-Rate (ABR) technology  to sense the network conditions and to adapt the proper bit-rate to any device. Orion-MCU recognizes the bandwidth limitations exist in the mobile network and adjusts, the user viewing experience, to only view the important parts of the conference.

Orion-MCU supports High Definition voice and video. The system is capable of identifying the handsets' resolution capabilities and it provides only the handsets’ rquired resolution through transcoding.

They're currently working on Microsoft certification for adding support for Microsoft Lync. Computer Telephony Distributing (CTD), a well-known distributor of telecom equipment is one of their major distributors. Priced at around $10,000, the platform is certainly affordable for the SMB. The fact that they support any SIP-based videophone, large in-room videoconferencing systems, as well as offer mobile video apps for iOS and Android makes Surf Communications a very comprehensive videoconferencing platform that isn't a walled garden like some solutions. They are certainly worth checking out - stop by their ITEXPO Booth #319 this week.

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