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Coming Soon: The Multimedia Chat Room

IMTC Conference predicts convergence of communication systems - Instant Messaging and new standards lead to more effective collaboration at a distance - Consolidation in the industry will enhance trend to multimedia communications

Geneva, May 13, 2003 - Chat rooms may soon really be what their name suggests: places where people can meet and talk at will - almost in person, but through the Internet. Just as in today's chat rooms it will be possible to see who is available on-line in advance of joining, and participants will be able to exchange written messages with each other. However, these meetings will also support voice and video communication, allowing an intensity of interaction so far only possible in face-to-face meetings. This is one of the visions shared by some 80 multimedia experts who met last week in Geneva for this year's Spring Forum on Rich Multimedia Communications, organized by the International Multimedia Telecommunication Consortium (IMTC) in collaboration with Wainhouse Research.

A basic requirement for the realization of this vision is the convergence of today's disjoint communication systems. For example, as Gurdeep Singh Pall, General Manager at Microsoft's Real Time Collaboration Business Unit, pointed out in his keynote address, since the telephone system is not linked to the PC, the sharing of applications and data is difficult. "We have only begun to tap the power of presence. The integration of PC and phone will allow people to be notified via instant messaging about incoming calls, information about the caller to be displayed automatically, and calls to be routed depending on the caller. The information worker's productivity will significantly increase thanks to better information access, sharing, and processing" Mr. Pall said.

Of equal interest is the convergence of the traditional wireline, cellular and WLAN (Wireless LAN) - based, a theme echoed by several speakers, including Jan Buis of Proxim. "Such integration will enable a person to place a call while in her office, leverage the cost efficiencies of WLAN while there, but transparently transfer the call to the cellular network when she leaves the office to drive home."

Conference participants also agreed that various challenges had to be overcome in order to realize the huge potential multimedia communications offers to the business world. In this context Joe Burton, Director of the Media Services Division of the IP Communications Business Unit at Cisco Systems, presented a roadmap to get to an era of ubiquitous, rich media communications. "A key component is the establishment of an IP Communications Grid that provides highly available, universally accessible and exponentially scalable access to communications services," he said. To get there, a powered, telephony-grade, intelligent IP network needs to be established throughout enterprises and service providers.

As presented by Dr. Stephen Wenger, TU Berlin, another key factor in the evolution to the multimedia communications, will be the widespread implementation of new video standards. Paramount among these standards is the new standard H.264, also known as MPEG-4 Part 10. Already "consented" by the ITU-T and soon to go to ballot by the International Standards Organization, H.264 yields the same quality as H.263 - currently the dominant videoconferencing codec - at half the bandwidth, and promises to supplant MPEG-2 as well. Especially 3G streaming and face-to-face Video application as presented by Amir Wolf, Emblaze, and Peter Jantsch, Vodaphone, will benefit from such new technology.

A very recent development in the industry was also intensely discussed: the acquisition of PlaceWare, a leading Web conferencing company, by Microsoft. This acquisition was announced some time ago, but just closed. Participants agreed that this deal will have a huge impact on the industry. "The increased involvement of Microsoft will put multimedia communications into the centre of public awareness," suggested Denise Persson of Genesys Conferencing. "It will support the strong upward trend in the implementation of advanced multimedia systems we currently witness in the business world and in academia."

Although there was a common feeling that it will take some time before multimedia communications moves from the professional world into the general public, conference participants were confident that these new technologies would soon enter private households. "The chatrooms of the future will be multimedia," said one participant, adding, "Our kids will not use it, they will live it."

About the IMTC
The International Multimedia Telecommunications Consortium (IMTC) is an industry-leading non-profit organization whose mission is to promote, encourage, and facilitate the development and implementation of interoperable multimedia conferencing solutions based on open international standards. The IMTC hosts interoperability testing events and demonstrations throughout the world. Over the past three years the IMTC has hosted more than 60 interoperability-testing events to test T.120, H.320, H.323, H.324, SIP, and Voice over IP products and services with each other. The IMTC Board of Directors includes representatives from Cisco Systems, Delithium Networks, France Telecom, Nokia, Polycom, RADVISION, Ridgeway, Siemens AG, Sony, TANDBERG, Telverse. The San Ramon, California-based consortium comprises close to 80 member organizations from around the globe. Membership is open to any interested party, including vendors of audio, document, and video conferencing hardware and software; academic institutions; government agencies; and non-profit organizations. "The IMTC is making Rich Media happen Anywhere, Anytime." Further information on IMTC can be found at