Smoothing out two-way video

FVC.com wants to delete the jerkiness out of video communications.

Forget the herky-jerky moving images of videophones. High-quality two-way video communications on demand seems ready to hit public telephone networks.

FVC.com plans to provide technology that it has used for four years to create high-quality videoconferencing on private networks to public communications carriers. That will allow phone companies to offer smooth, high-speed video communications to their customers at any time, and help them sell broadband connections that will be needed as well.

Ten top carriers -- AT&T, Bell Atlantic, British Telecommunications, France Telecom, MCI WorldCom, Optus, Qwest Communications International, Sprint, Telia and Telstra -- from North America, Europe and Australia are testing the technology, FVC.com chief executive Richard Beyer said. FVC.com will unveil its carrier offering 14 September. It expects high-quality video services to be available to businesses in a few months and to consumers within a year. "We think we're on the verge of really changing the landscape of interactive, two-way video services,'' Beyer said.

And that could help propel a market for video services that has been slow to grow. Perey Research estimated that interactive video services could explode from a $6bn ($4bn) business this year to $22bn in 2003.

The carriers' interest reflects their thirst for fat applications to fill big and burgeoning pipes. Companies such as Qwest and Level 3 Communications have been laying out fibre networks capable of absorbing more phone traffic than is carried by all existing long-distance carriers today. FVC.com's Web-based technology also should drive down the cost of video communications. Where 40 hours per month of video service now costs about $3000, the company expects to chop that price to as little as $500 before 2001.

Carriers can buy FVC.com equipment at a cost of $500,000 to $1m to support 500 to 1000 users in a niche or test market, or use FVC.com's operations centre and pay fees based on usage or customers. The centre consists of Web portal servers; gatekeepers; multipoint conference hosting; and operations support systems -- all connected to service provider networks with a network switch, to ISDN dial-up services through access gateways and to other centres with internal gateways.

"Within two years virtually all carriers will be delivering video services over their broadband networks," said Howard Anderson, president of Yankee Group research. "This sets the stage for applications such as video call centres or mobile video offices, making video as important to the enterprise as voice and data are today.'' FVC.com pioneered the deployment of real-time video over broadband, Anderson noted, and is "years ahead" of other competitors. The technology also can be used to conduct business meetings, corporate communications, training and distance learning. That should expand over time to shopping, customer service, entertainment and other visual communications uses, FVC.com said.

Discussions to deliver such services are furthest along with Qwest. Though no deal is sealed, FVC.com believes Qwest could launch business service before the year's end, Beyer said. And Qwest said it will demonstrate FVC.com's technology at the Networld+Interop trade show this week in Atlanta.

Qwest has long aimed for multimedia services for its fibre network. For example, the carrier this month announced QShow, a narrower-band Web conferencing service.

FVC.com was co-founded in 1993 by networking pioneer Ralph Ungermann, a principal in Zilog, which introduced a powerful microprocessor for early PCs, and Ungermann-Bass, which introduced the first Ethernet router and chip set, token ring chip set and intelligent hub.

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