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Pangean Technologiesï¿½ insta-REACT! (Real-Time Enablement for Advanced Communications Technologies) Voice Communications Platform is a VoIP- and software-based communications solution used for instant message and instant voice communications within an enterprise. Unlike most consumer-based IM clients, the insta-REACT! Voice Communications Platform provides secure, standards-based multimedia communications using the SIP protocol over an IP-multicast enabled network. Its major features include presence, voice recording, global intercom, broadcast and missed broadcast, hoot and holler, instant messaging (IM), push to talk, one-to-one page sessions, and dynamic conferencing. Insta-REACT is a great solution for when you need to instantly and spontaneously communicate with several co-workers in your enterprise, especially larger organizations that often have employees in several disparate buildings. Using an IP-based solution such as insta-React can save of the costs of a PSTN-based audio-conferencing bridge.
The insta-REACT Voice Communications Platform is made up of three components, including insta-REACT! Admin Server, insta-REACT! Server, and insta-REACT! Client. The insta-REACT Admin Server is a Web-based management server (Figure 1) that allows an administrator to set up and modify groups and user configurations. The insta-REACT! Server runs on a Windows 2000/2003 server (with SQL Server) and provides media control and end-user management, enabling insta-REACT! Clients to communicate with each other. Finally, the insta-REACT! Client (Figure 2) is a Windows-based SIP endpoint that integrates voice and IM and is the main interface for the users to communicate with each other. The application uses a ï¿½Buddy listsï¿½ style GUI with user-defined groups and provides presence and availability information. Using the client you can perform such features as ï¿½Push to Talkï¿½ (individual user or group), Paging, Global Intercom, Instant Messaging and Multicast based group conferencing.
Interestingly, the insta-REACT! solution uses IP multicast technology, which lends itself to much greater scalability than other IP conferencing solutions that require each client to make a connection to each of the other clients or that require a centralized MCU (Multi-point Control Unit) to perform audio transcoding/mixing and then transmit the audio to each client ï¿½ all of which adds latency to the audio. In fact, the total bandwidth required for multiparty conferences increases as the square of the number of parties involved, leading to scalability problems. Conversely, Pangeanï¿½s multicast solution simply uses multicast IP technology (address range is from 22.214.171.124 to 126.96.36.199) to transmit the audio across the network, which results in bandwidth and latency savings.
Insta-REACT also uses SIP and SIMPLE to provide instant voice communications on a one-to-one, one-to-many, and many-to-many basis. This enables group voice broadcast, hoot and holler, point to point, and Push-to-Talk utilizing the clientï¿½s existing IP network. The application also provides for compliance with Quality of Service (QoS) policies enforced in the communication networks.
With its multicast support, insta-REACT! supports an unlimited number of users within a group to transmit and receive audio with no centralized mixer (MCU) required. Pangeanï¿½s solution utilizes Voice Activity Detection and uses standard UDP/RTP protocols for voice transport and standard codecs G.711 u-Law, G.711-aLaw and GSM 6.10, and they claim that it provides for low latency of less than 40ms.
Pangean claims that their architecture ï¿½allows a complete scalable solution that is bandwidth efficient even with a 10,000 users per group conference.ï¿½ Their ad hoc conferencing uses a decentralized multicast conference, so any endpoint coming into the dynamic conference must have been invited (INVITE) by another user and can also send an INVITE to other potential participants. The user receives the ï¿½INVITEï¿½ stating that another user has invited them to a conference. Those alerted endpoints can accept or decline the invite within the specified timeout period all without the need for a centralized MCU.
Hoot and Holler
Users can tune into an unlimited number of Hoots simultaneously, each of which can be configured through the configuration server. Hoot volume controls are available on the hoot buttons to reset the volume of any particular hoot. The user can also send audio onto the hoots that they have talk-back access to (i.e., ï¿½enablingï¿½ the hoot) by depressing the microphone on the right side of the hoot button. The ability to ï¿½listen onlyï¿½ or ï¿½talk and listenï¿½ is enabled by the Web-based administration screen and is configurable on a per-group/hoot basis.
Instant Messaging within insta-REACT supports SIMPLE and has an open, interoperable architecture that allows insta-REACT to adapt other protocols like XMPP and others that may emerge in the future. It also allows users to exchange IM with other users using an instant message client that supports SIMPLE.
We made some test calls. First we made a single user-to-user page by clicking the page (Talk) button, speaking into the microphone and we could then hear the audio almost immediately come out of the remote PC sitting behind us in the lab. This test passed with flying colors so we proceeded to try a group page. We highlighted a group we created with four members. We clicked the Talk button and we could instantly talk to all members within the group. We should mention that you have to press and hold the talk button to speak unless you switch over to the hands-free-mode. In the non-hands-free mode, this allows you to send quick audio messages and the microphone is switched off automatically when you let go of the talk button. For conferencing you can click the Conference button and invite individuals from any group into the dynamic conference. Importantly, the software supports drag-and-drop for adding users to a dynamic conference. We were able to hold a conference with four people with very good sound
quality. One thing we noticed when doing a group conference is that it doesnï¿½t indicate on the screen who is currently speaking. We would like to see the icon next to the person talking change color or animate in some fashion. All in all, our tests passed with no problems and the audio was very clear with minimal latency.
Two other important features include the ability to see missed pages in the Alerts screen, and the ability to use the product across WANs. You have a couple options for working across a WAN. You can use Microsoft VPN, which will encapsulate the multicast packets. Cisco VPN doesnï¿½t allow for encapsulating multicast packets and, according to Cisco, they have no plans to support multicast over VPN since they view it as a security risk. The second option is Pangeanï¿½s own home-grown solution. Pangean told TMC Labs that, since Cisco VPN is very popular, theyï¿½ve decided to devise a product of their own to get around the multicast over WAN links issue. On their roadmap is a ï¿½reflectorï¿½ that can capture multicast packets, encapsulate them into unicast packets, and send to all the other reflectors. This would enable multicast packets to go across WAN links.
Room For Improvement
Although Pangean supports SIMPLE and any IM client that supports SIMPLE, weï¿½d like to see Pangean actively and natively support the major IM networks, such as MSN Messenger, Yahoo! Messenger, and AOLï¿½s AIM, at least for IM capabilities (VoIP interoperability would be icing on the cake). This way users can have one less IM client that they need to have running and taking up system resources. Weï¿½d also like to see some sort of conference scheduling integration with clients such as Outlook.
We noticed that you cannot private ï¿½talkï¿½ to one participant from when you are in the Dynamic Conference window. There is a workaround ï¿½ you can however set up a separate ï¿½pageï¿½ from the main GUI to that user for a private voice talk while still in the conference. Weï¿½d also like to suggest a ï¿½whisperï¿½ feature while on a conference that letï¿½s you highlight a participant, press a button, and say something private to just the one conference participant. On a related note, weï¿½d like the ability for the creator of the conference to have moderator privileges that enable the moderator to mute an unruly participant.
Finally, we mentioned to Pangean weï¿½d like to see video; they do have video on their roadmap.
Most businesses use paging/intercom systems using paging groups defined on the phone system, which are, in turn, usually configured by department. The problem with this is that they must be defined by the telecom manager. Often users donï¿½t know how to page a specific group and, worst of all, it doesnï¿½t lend itself to personalized paging groups. Pangeanï¿½s IP-based software solution does lend itself to user personalization and is much easier to use than remembering a cryptic sequence of touch-tones on the phone to initiate a group-specific page. The ability to send quick audio messages to specific users or groups, the productï¿½s chat capabilities, its excellent scalability due to multicast support, and its easy-to-use interface make this a superb solution for inter-office communications. IT