- Jean-Pierre Bédard Director, Telephony & Unified Communications, CBC/Radio-Canada Media Technology Services
- Louis Lamarre Project Manager, Unified Communications and Telephony, CBC/Radio-Canada Media Technology Services
As part of CBC/Radio-Canada’s on-going commitment to leverage new technology in pursuit of greater cost efficiency in difficult economic times, the Corporation has proceeded with the installation of a new, High Definition1 (HD) videoconferencing system as part of a drive to reduce meeting-related travel expenses and foster a greater sense of community within an organisation spread out over as vast a country as ours.
The purpose of this article is to describe CBC/Radio-Canada’s new Polycom HD videoconferencing system, its open architecture, which allows it to fit into the Corporation’s Unified Communications2 strategy, and the benefits that it will bring to the organisation.
Figure 1 – The Polycom Videoconferencing System in Action
The current Polycom corporate videoconferencing system has been in place since May of 2012. About twenty of these systems are installed in CBC/Radio-Canada facilities throughout the country, mostly in the major production centres, such as Montreal, Toronto, and Ottawa. This project arose out of the need to replace the Corporation’s old videoconferencing system with one that would provide end-users with a thoroughly modern, immersive, reliable, HD experience that they would find enjoyable and rewarding enough to use frequently. The other main driving force behind the project was the installation of a cutting-edge architecture that would allow for bridging possibilities, an architecture that would be secure, yet open to the outside world all whilst allowing external elements (e.g., tablets, smartphones, computers, etc.) to be connected to it through the use of open communication protocols, such as Session Initiation Protocol (SIP)3 and H.3234, to ensure that CBC/Radio-Canada did not end up belonging to a closed community.
The videoconferencing as such, the video application, is a module of the Corporation's Unified Communications. Each building featuring HD videoconferencing is connected with each other thanks to CBC/Radio-Canada’s Next Generation Converged Network5 (NGCN). The system is open to the Internet thanks to a bridging system; it is not just open to interact with internal clients, but with external ones as well (e.g., the Corporation’s offices in London, UK, amongst others).
Figure 2 – The Polycom Videoconferencing System
Essentially, Polycom’s system is very high-end; its HD capabilities make for a more immersive experience, giving a greater impression of closeness with the other participants in a videoconference, regardless of their physical distance, especially when compared to the quality of a desktop-to-desktop connection through a webcam. Another added benefit of the system is that it can easily handle multi-point conferences: whether it is from multiple videoconferencing rooms or through a variety of devices, a plethora of people can participate in any given videoconference. This is thanks to Polycom’s conference bridge, which allows all of these connections to be married with each other to provide a visually and aurally coherent experience in spite of the differing elements present in different devices (e.g., the less powerful camera of a smartphone). The system’s microphones are of much better quality than those found in PCs or on lower-end systems, all of which contributes toward a greater comfort level amongst the people involved in the process. Additionally, some of CBC/Radio-Canada’s videoconferencing rooms are equipped with cameras that automatically focus in on the individual that happens to be talking at the time and display them prominently on the screens of the other participants.
The system has a fairly ample variety of uses, such as point-to-point calls, meetings to avoid travel, multi-location meetings throughout Canada of the various Production departments, and even simple business meetings, where there is some degree of overlap with Google Hangout6 It is worth keeping in mind that there is a difference between the Polycom system and Google Hangout, these are complementary tools, rather than tools in competition with each other: a Hangout is a tool that allows for a quick and widespread (after all, every CBC/Radio-Canada employee is part of the Google environment and has a Google account) use; however is exposed to the bandwidth limitations of the public Internet, it does not allow for as comprehensive and immersive an experience as the Polyom system (e.g., it does not necessarily allow for multiple people to talk simultaneously). Complex meetings, especially those with many participants, require the use of a more powerful tool, better cameras, and HD rendering for a better and more productive user experience, and that is where Polycom's system shines. Another advantage of the Polycom system lies in its ability to add content to present on screen seamlessly from one's computer to all of the other participants without diminishing the immersive view of the presenter; said content will be displayed on one of the screens on the recipients' side, as can be seen in Figure 2 above.
Bridging with Other Systems
Figure 3 –
The Polycom system offers a bridging capability that allows users to connect to other systems and the world at large through the Internet; simultaneously, this bridge also protects the system from unauthorised external access and attacks due to its high security. This allows CBC/Radio-Canada’s foreign bureaus in London, Paris, Tel-Aviv, Jerusalem, and the like to easily connect to the Corporation’s videoconferencing system through an IP address and make use of its functionalities in spite of not being in locations covered by the NGCN.
Any system using either SIP or the H.323 protocol can interact with the Polycom system and access to the system can be easily achieved through an application (available for iPhone, iPad, Android phones and tablets, PC, etc.).
Interconnection can involve video and audio, but also audio by itself through the Corporation’s regular telephone system.
Telephone Conference Migration
Another function that is a direct result of the Polycom system’s bridging capability is its ability to replace CBC/Radio-Canada’s current telephone conferencing system, at least insofar as low-volume conference calls are concerned (i.e., those with up to ten participants), which accounts for most of the conference calls made regularly within the organisation.
Consequently, a migration is underway to make use of this functionality as a much more efficient replacement of the system that was in place until now and leverage the infrastructure that the Corporation now has in place with no further cost aside from the purchase of some licences. The cost savings driving this approach are very significant when compared to the use of the external telephone conference that CBC/Radio-Canada was using. This new functionality will be deployed at some point in the fourth quarter of this fiscal year.
Figure 4 – The Polycom iPad App
Figure 5 – The Polycom Android App
Costs & Benefits
CBC/Radio-Canada’s Media Technology Services department takes pride in the fact that the costs involved in this project were fairly low, between the infrastructure and licences involved, and they were quickly recovered through savings. As things stand, the system has been paid for, amortised, and it is available to anyone within the Corporation if they have a need for it.
One of the main benefits of upgrading has been the steady increase seen in the usage of the videoconferencing system due to its much higher reliability in comparison to the old system. One of the main things that were looked at when making the decision to upgrade was the significance of the travel-related savings that would be made, and it was found to be substantial.
This opens up a variety of new paths and options when it comes to business processes and procedures, as the new system is being used successfully for more than just meetings, but for remote job interviews, training, and the like. The quality of the system, coupled with its immersive feel, encourages CBC/Radio-Canada employees to use the system more often and find ways in which it can be used to simplify their working lives and improve their productivity.