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Verizon, Tata Link Their Telepresence Networks

Partnership connects immersive telepresence systems, so Verizon customers can have sessions with Tata customers and vice versa.

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Slideshow: Cisco Umi Takes Telepresence To The Home
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Verizon and Tata Communications said Wednesday they have entered into a partnership to link each company's immersive telepresence systems so Verizon customers can have sessions with Tata customers and vice versa. The move is a way to make both telepresence networks more valuable to customers by reaching more people.

"It more than doubles the number of connections for both of us," said Jeff Cayer, group manager of visual communications for Verizon, without specifying the exact number of end points.

Such partnerships are called network-to-network interconnections (NNIs) and, while this is Verizon's first such deal, NNIs are a key part of India-based Tata's growth strategy, said Brian Washburn, research director in the network services area for the research firm Current Analysis.

"Tata has been pushing very hard to be interoperable with as many people as possible," Washburn said. "Several of the industry players have decided they want to be the center of gravity for telepresence and Tata is doing it through partnering."

Other carriers building telepresence networks through partnering include BT Global Services, Orange Business Services, and AT&T, he said. While Verizon has relatively few telepresence rooms in its network, its approach to the market is more as a consultant and project manager, helping corporations develop their own telepresence studios.

Under the partnership agreement, Verizon will link to Tata's 31 "public" telepresence rooms in five continents, which are available for rent, as well as connecting to the Tata Communications Global Meeting Exchange, which is made up of all of Tata's corporate and enterprise customers and its other carrier partners.

Both Tata's and Verizon's telepresence rooms are based on Cisco's TelePresence System, which is high-end technology with specially-built studios, high-definition video, large screens, and high-bandwidth connections. It's called "immersive" telepresence because people on both ends of the connection appear to be in the same room.

While today's NNIs are based exclusively on Cisco technology, Washburn said the telepresence industry is moving toward interoperability with other telepresence systems, such as Polycom's, and with conventional video conferencing systems that use Web cameras on PCs or cameras on tablet computers and smartphones.

The partnership with Verizon is another manifestation of the principle known as "the network effect," said Peter Quinlan, vice president of integrated business video services with Tata Communications, which posits that the value of a network grows the more connect to it. Conventional phone networks, the Internet, and the popularity of Facebook are all examples of the network effect.

Tata has NNIs through its Global Meeting Exchange with BT, Orange, and Telefonica in Europe, and now Verizon, he said.

"The value of the service is all about who you can call," Quinlan said in an email interview. "Traditional video conferencing was always plagued by the downside of the network effect since, although there were a lot of endpoints out there, customers found it very hard to actually place calls to them."

Although agreeing with the idea of the network effect in general, analyst Washburn said the network of telepresence rooms operated by Tata, Verizon and other carriers is still relatively small.

"The largest of these telepresence providers may have a thousand end points on their exchange," he said. However, as telepresence systems become more interoperable with each other and with conventional video conferencing systems, and as they become integrated with various unified communications systems, the network effect will grow.

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