XConnect launches Video Interconnection Exchange

New federation connects video 'islands' of separate providers' networks.

By Ted Stevenson | Posted Jun 22, 2011
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It's been the year of video ever since we launched Enterprise VoIPplanet, early in 2005—at least in the eyes of video visionaries. But over the past 18 months or so, we've seen the vision truly become a reality.

Not only have services like Skype, FaceTime, and Tango brought video to individual users—and pretty high-quality video at that—almost for free, many enterprise-oriented services have appeared that offer business class point-to-point videoconferencing, often at a low subscription rate. Throw in the new wave of smartphones with video cameras, and suddenly it's everywhere.

In other words, it's here, it works, it's affordable, and people are using it.

The only problem is that the network of each provider forms a video 'island,' unable to communicate with the many other islands, due to issues of protocol use, device selection, and just plain session addressing.

This is the problem that London, England-based provider of interconnection services XConnect{ has set out to tackle. Today, it announced the formation of its Video Interconnection Exchange, a federation of video-over-IP providers who will now be able to exchange traffic with one another.

"Essentially, we are providing off-net peering between a group of service providers, to allow them to enhance the product to their customers by saying 'the video device doesn't just allow you to call internally within my network any longer, you can also call directly to this list of service providers or this list of my competitors,' " commented XConnect vice president of sales, marketing, and products, John Wilkinson, in a recent interview.

In the past, video was for companies with deep pockets, Wilkinson pointed out, "dominated by the classic model of an SI [system integrator] who provides a lot of $4,000 boxes into an office, along with a rather expensive VPN from Verizon or whoever, connecting those devices together."

But that old order is rapidly being replaced by what one is tempted to call market chaos—video being sold as an add-on communications service by traditional voice-over-broadband providers, system integrators turned entrepreneurs, selling their own brand of video service, the newer subscription or room-based providers, and the free or almost-free providers like FaceTime, et al.

This "migration," as Wilkinson terms it—the ready availability of affordable video—is creating significant increases in video traffic and driving a lot of development work, but at the same time, mass adoption of video communications is hindered by the lack of interconnection between video islands.

Enter the Video Interconnection Exchange or VIE.

Central to the working of the VIE is the XConnect Peering/Interconnection registry, a massive database of phone numbers, IP addresses, and routing information that facilitates the direct connecting of calls from one customer's IP network to the other networks within the peering federation—bypassing the PSTN. VIE extends that service to include video, in addition to VoIP and HD voice calling.

"Essentially, that means, at the edge of a customer's network, they can make a query against our registry which can give them the information necessary on how to route a video call," Wilkinson explained.

In the case of video, however, the information on how to set up a viable connection between two providers that may be using different protocols and/or different devices is likely to be highly complex, compared to voice.

"There's enormously more complexity around the signaling and interworking of video than there is in voice," is how Wilkinson puts it. "On top of that you've also got an enormous amount of device-based variation—for example, frame size—just a whole series of tweaks that are made by all the different vendors to get their video device to work over H.264 [MPEG4] or whatever the protocol is.

"We've created a registry policy that's necessary to make this work. We've got a small list of SIP and H.323 devices which are interworking today. We've got a transcoding platform coming in which will allow us to bridge a great deal more different devices and protocols over time," continued Wilkinson, ticking off the elements of the solution.

At the time of today's announcement, XConnect had confirmed five founding members of the VIE. As the idea catches on, more providers will undoubtedly join, thus extending the universe within which video calls can circulate, which, will undoubtedly create more interest, and so on.

"That migration over the next few years is going to be a very interesting one to watch," Wilkinson commented.

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