Polycom's Emerging Technologies Director Stefan Karapetkov Discusses the Communications Industry
Karapetkov is something of an expert on the subject, and he will participate in two panelist discussion sessions at the upcoming IT Expo West this October, both at the “Communication Beyond the Enterprise: The Personal Investment in Telepresence” and the “How Video Changes the Way We Communicate” forums.
The following details the interview’s highlights:
TMC Representative: What is the most significant trend in communications today? Why?
Karapetkov: The most significant trend we see in the communications market today is towards improved voice quality and towards broader adoption of video. People need better ways to communicate – both in their private and professional lives - and the traditional toll voice is not quite meeting expectations. Globalization is still the major driver for HD voice and video adoption in the enterprise environment. We are now starting to see business continuity as a second major driver. Business continuity is all about maintaining business performance even when people cannot be physically present at a work location, e.g., because of high energy costs, global contagion like H1N1 and SARS, terrorism, or natural disasters like earthquakes and volcanoes. HD voice and video communication helps overcome these challenges in an efficient manner, preserving close interactivity and efficiency in virtual teams.
Polycom has been shipping HD voice for 10 years. Our first HD voice product was released in year 2000 and supported Siren 7 (7 kHz audio). In 2003, we started shipping 14 kHz voice and in 2006 - full-band 20+ kHz voice. Today our solutions support full-band audio that goes beyond speech/voice transmission and delivers high-quality music and mixed content over low-bit-rate links.
HD video systems started shipping 4-5 years ago, and are now the norm for new installations. However, the bandwidth requirements for HD video were quite high and did not allow mass deployment up until the recent introduction of H.264 High Profile, a technology that reduces the required network bandwidth for an HD video call from 1+ Mbps to 512 kbps. This is in line with what most enterprise networks can handle today. Polycom is again at the forefront, and is the first and only vendor shipping H.264 High Profile technology for real-time communication applications.
TMC Representative: What is the one product or service the market is most in need of?
Karapetkov: The most pressing requirement today is to connect businesses (B2B communication) and remote workers (teleworkers, remote offices) across network boundaries. Firewalls have been and continue to be major inhibitor of end-to-end voice and video communication across IP networks, and firewall traversal services are essential to successful mass deployments.
Traditional voice and video deployments are within the enterprise network and provide limited direct connectivity to the outside world. SIP trunking emerged as a way to connect enterprises via a service provider but we are also seeing a lot of new inter-exchanges that allow network peering in new ways.
The Polycom UC Intelligent Core includes a robust firewall traversal solution based on Polycom’s S and E series of Video Border Proxies. These are used by some service providers to enable B2B visual communication.
New is the availability of a stable standard for firewall traversal in SIP environments - the Interactive Connectivity Establishment (ICE) protocol - and the market is hungry for ICE based firewall traversal services for B2B connectivity. We are currently using ICE services provided in Microsoft OCS but service provider offerings would allow for more scale and reliability.
TMC Representative: When will unified communications go mainstream?
Karapetkov: Unified Communications (UC) is a major driving force for video adoption in enterprises. When video becomes part of the UC experience, and is accessible with just one click, it adds incremental value to a UC deployment. Being able to utilize a range of communications tools – such as messaging, presence, IP telephony, voice and video conferencing, and telepresence – gives users ready access to the people and information they need to make rapid and informed decisions.
We address UC through the Polycom Open Collaboration Network. Polycom is working closely with the leading UC vendors, such as Microsoft, HP and IBM, to video-enable workflow solutions for enterprises that will help to continuously improve user engagement, productivity and efficiency. MS OCS and Exchange users as well as IBM SameTime and Lotus Notes users will benefit the most from the seamless integration.
Vendor interoperability is of paramount importance to the success of Unified Communications, and this led Polycom to become a founding member of the UC Interoperability Forum (UCIF), which will have its first face-to-face meeting during the ITEXPO West event in Los Angeles (October 4-6, 2010).
Karapetkov: Polycom has a business model based on standards and interoperability; therefore, we believe that the best solution in the market is open and standards-based. The vendor who provides the best open, scalable, standards-based platform in the smart phone and tablet market will win, and we will be the first to integrate with open standard solutions in this space.
TMC Representative: Has social media changed how you communicate with customers?
Karapetkov: Social media has dramatically changed the way we communicate not only with customers but also with Polycom partners, and within Polycom. Blogs have replaced white papers to a certain extend and provide the ability to address a hot industry issue in fast and direct manner. I have been blogging about video networks and video communications at http://videonetworker.blogspot.com/. I often write about voice and video applications and the underlying technology – scalability, management, security – that make these applications possible. My colleague Jeff Rodman writes about Unified Communications and HD Voice at http://jeffreyrodman.blogspot.com/, while my colleague Bob Preston focuses on Collaboration Solutions in Industry Segments at http://collaborationbenefits.blogspot.com/.
Twitter has been very beneficial for distributing short messages, including announcements and links to blog posts, white papers, and other materials. Tweeting has become common place across Polycom. We also have a Facebook page, and our new Polycom corporate web page links to variety of social media tools.
TMC Representative: Nearly every phone manufacturer is now incorporating support for wideband codecs. Will we finally see widespread HD voice deployments in 2011?
Karapetkov: We see a strong uptake in HD Voice, and most VOIP phones shipping today have some sort of HD Voice support. As I mentioned above, Polycom has been shipping HD voice for 10 years, starting with 7 kHz voice, then moving to 14 kHz audio in 2003 and 20+ kHz audio in 2006. While the voice industry as a whole is only now moving to 7 kHz voice, we have moved further beyond – to support 14 kHz and even 20+ kHz audio. I like using the term “audio” rather than “voice” in this space because the technology goes beyond speech/voice transmission and allow for high-quality music and mixed content.
In addition to the Siren 22 codec that we have been shipping for quite a while, we now support G.719, the first ITU-T standard for full-band audio. More details about the joint development between Polycom and Ericsson and the capabilities of this free codec are here.
Note that HD Voice is not only about better quality codecs. The acoustics of the handset have to be improved while microphones and speakers have to be modified to capture/play higher quality voice and audio. Echo cancelation and other algorithms have to be adjusted to support the wider frequency band. I have addressed the challenges around transmitting high-quality audio in a joint white paper with the Manhattan School of Music. The paper highlights our focus on audio quality and demonstrates our capability to meet the requirements of the most demanding users: musicians. The technology developed for this high-end application trickles down to room and personal telepresence systems and telephones, effectively spreading across the entire Polycom portfolio.
TMC Representative: What are your thoughts on the viability of mobile video chat or conferencing?
Karapetkov: Bandwidth is critical for video communications, and current 3G networks are struggling with the load. We have seen service providers announce video services just to shut them down because of network overload. Whilst data applications, and even voice services, can be maintained even if the network bandwidth is low, video still requires solid network with relatively high bandwidth. 4G technology addresses bottlenecks to a certain extent but video compression technology has to meet wireless networks halfway.
Polycom has always at the forefront of video compression technology. To enable high-quality video over bandwidth constrained networks, we have recently introduced H.264 High Profile technology that allows video to be compressed approximately at least twice the rate of competitive offerings. As a result, customers can save up to 50 per cent on bandwidth costs using Polycom solutions. The H.264 High Profile protocol also facilitates faster video services in the cloud and over 4G networks – bringing us one step closer to a future where visual communication is available anywhere, to anyone.
TMC Representative: Some have suggested wireless networking will soon replace wired networks in the enterprise. Do you agree? Why or why not?
Karapetkov: Wireless networks have become common in enterprise environments and we have addressed this trend through the acquisition of Spectralink, as a result of which Polycom’s portfolio now includes series of Wi-Fi phones as well as DECT phones. By leveraging QOS mechanisms built into the Polycom wireless solution, we can guarantee high voice quality.
Most of the hard video endpoints are connected to the wired LAN, while our CMA Desktop soft client running on PC or Mac is frequently used over Wi-Fi networks. I personally use CMA Desktop extensively, and rarely connect my laptop to a Cat5 LAN cable. As enterprise video becomes more personal and less room-based, we expect that more and more video endpoints and soft clients will be using wireless technology.
Another alternative to the wired enterprise network is a service provider offering based on 4G technologies. The term 4G refers to fourth-generation wireless technologies, including Long Term Evolution (LTE) and WiMAX, which enable more interactivity for application users by providing higher bandwidth and lower delay. Service Providers are yet to develop competitive voice and video services for enterprises over 4G networks.
TMC Representative: What impact has the growth of cloud-based services had on your business?
Karapetkov: We see a viable business model for real-time communication services in the Cloud. Similar to hosted communication, cloud computing promises cost efficient services to organizations of all sizes. However, the business case is particularly strong for small and medium businesses that can now get leading edge services previously only available to large enterprises that had large investments in infrastructure.
Cloud computing today is mostly about non-real time applications, but as the networks connecting cloud providers and cloud users improve, real-time services – such as voice and video communications – will also be offered out of the Cloud. With an unrivalled heritage in HD voice, video and telepresence communications solutions, Polycom is the partner of choice for vendors leading the development of cloud services, including Microsoft and IBM.
Cloud computing provides SMBs, in particular, with the flexibility to access video communications solutions without the need to invest in their own infrastructure. Since SMBs comprise an overwhelming majority of companies in the world, and employ the majority of the workforce, cloud computing promises to be a significant factor in the trend towards visual communication becoming mainstream within three years.
TMC Representative: What do you think of the net neutrality debate?
Karapetkov: Net neutrality is a controversial issue. Broadband service providers argue that some form of traffic prioritization is needed in order to provide high quality of services (QOS) for different types of applications/content while content providers argue that net neutrality is needed because e.g. an Internet access provider like Comcast could prioritize its NBC streaming video content over that of a rival. Net neutrality, or the idea that service providers should treat all traffic in the same way, has serious implications for the SP’ ability to support QOS sensitive applications, such as voice and video communication. A possible compromise would be to allow service providers to distinguish among application types (live audio/video, streaming, browsing/email) and assign priorities based on application type, not on content provider.
TMC Representative: What is the most overhyped technology in your opinion?
Karapetkov: I would not use the term “overhyped” but cloud computing has been a hot topic for the last 12 months, and continues to draw attention. I have just checked my 4Q2010 calendar, and I am scheduled to speak about cloud computing at the Cloud Expo, Cloud Communications Summit, CEWIT, and BBWF. Cloud computing opens new opportunities and has created quite a lot of excitement in our industry.
TMC Representative: You are speaking at ITEXPO West 2010. What is your session about?
Karapetkov: I am presenting in two sessions at ITEXPO West 2010; both belong to the track “Conferencing & Collaboration”.
The first one - “Communication Beyond the Enterprise: The Personal Investment in Telepresence” - will discuss the growing state and robust future potential of telepresence technology, including a look at some of the companies that are already realizing benefits. We will discuss the evolution of telepresence from the boardroom to the conference room, and now to the general office environment and public spaces. We will also discuss the next level of immersion and how far people will be able to blur the boundaries between in-person and virtual communication experience.
The second one - “How Video Changes the Way We Communicate” - will investigate how visual communications impacts the way we live and work. We will look at bandwidth requirements and constraints for high quality video, and discuss when wired and wireless networks will be ready to carry the load of mass video deployments. We will look at the technical challenges with deploying HD video in enterprise, mobile, and wired broadband networks, and discuss how far we are from universal industry standards for visual communication across all networks.
TMC Representative: What will attendees take away from your session?
Karapetkov: I hope they will leave with deeper understanding of the market and technology trends in the voice and video communication space. I am also looking forward to heated discussions with thought leaders from other companies in our industry.
TMC Representative: Please make a bold technology prediction for 2011.
Karapetkov: The architecture of video networks will dramatically change to accommodate requirements for more scalability and reliability.
To find out more about Stefan Karapetkov and Polycom, visit the company at ITEXPO West 2010. To be held Oct. 4 to 6 in Los Angeles, ITEXPO is the world’s premier IP communications event. Stefan Karapetkov is speaking during two separate communications-related sessions. Don’t wait. Register now.
Erin Monda is a unified communications Contributing Editor. To read more of her articles, please visit her columnist page.
Edited by Erin Monda