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Dedicated ATM video area network spans several Ohio high schools.

Collaboration-management software and interoperable products aid in learning process.

The proliferation of broadband networks has created the need for higher quality video collaboration and telepresence in the corporate, industrial and public sectors. Live business television, distance learning and video-area networks require multimegabit bandwidth to produce a visually transparent experience.

Existing data networks were not designed to accommodate real-time traffic such as video. Several standards have emerged that are enabling the reservation of network resources, optimized routing and negotiated transport--crucial to obtaining quality of service (QoS), that makes the real-time video experience transparent and reliable enough to satisfy all session participants.

Many school districts receive grants and apportioned funds to incorporate video collaboration capabilities into their data infrastructure. Medical centers vie for remote consultation, telemedicine and patient video archives that may be recalled for future review by medical students, physicians and legal personnel.

Governments seek to overlay video collaboration on their high-capacity network infrastructure. Desktop client viewers need to tap into the large available video archives, which may not reside locally but can be securely accessed over the network. Live test footage, produced by various military agencies, needs to be shared securely by remote groups and often published on removable mass storage media.

Network managers are clamoring for vendor solutions that are affordable, scalable and manageable.


Traditional data networks are built around IP protocol with bandwidth allocation based simply on the number of terminals fanning out from the backbone. Only recently have network managers been capable of reserving resources throughout the network and limiting some nodes while boosting others--not ideal in networks that carry a scalable video user base. Video tends to saturate network routers, switches and buffers. Due to the continuous streaming nature of compressed video, the network designed for asynchronous data traffic is often unable to bear the load of multiple time-critical payloads consisting of compressed video. Compressed video clients, usually H.261, H.263 or MPEG (moving pictures experts group) -I, -II and -IV, are sensitive to network load fluctuations, dropped packets and delays. These anomalies normally don't affect traditional data but are immediately noticeable in video transport manifested by visual and aural jitter. Conventional IP networks that are, by nature, "connectionless" do not solve this on a global standards-based level. There is no widespread methodology established for QoS over packet networks with connectionless service. In the future, virtual private network (VPN) technology based on multiprotocol label switching (MPLS) will appear in disparate network products that should solve the resource reservation issue.


Currently, ATM forms the backbone of many public networks. Carriers offering VPN and remote enterprise connectivity usually employ synchronous optical network (SONET) infrastructure with ATM topologies. At the carrier's local point of presence, an IP-packet network is emerging from the ATM backbone, which travels the last mile to the enterprise. Even xDSL in the home is an ATM connection with packet service on top of it. ATM was devised to allow guaranteed connections between ingress and egress points on a network. ATM provides a connection-based path with QoS between two or more nodes in a network. Since paths are established a-priori, there is no on-the-fly routing made with each datagram as in the packet-based network.

ATM networks use "cells"--cells are 53 bytes, five of which are header and 48 are payload--instead of packets to create virtual circuits (VC). These circuits may be permanent or switched, depending on the policies of the network manager. A permanent virtual circuit (PVC) is "nailed up" and left up for the time of provisioning. A switched virtual circuit (SVC) may be setup and torn down many times so that the service may be charged as used. SVCs also offer more sophisticated operation than PVCs, at a lower setup complexity.


With a lack of QoS and the inherent packet network delays, it is important that the system be capable of low-latency transmission. This means moving out data units almost as soon as they are produced using user datagram protocol instead of buffering them on the sending and receiving sides, delivering a more transparent experience during interactive sessions. In a point-to-point full-duplex video-teleconference, the latency from end to end should be less than 300 ms in each direction; 150 to 200 ms is more typical with 4-6 mbits of MPEG-II video compression.

Beside latency, lost packets and priority delays may cause video jitter at the receiving end. However, in a network with QoS, such as ATM, it is less likely that packets will be lost or that video will jitter, although latency is still an issue.

Another collaboration issue is device discovery and connection. For a network to be scalable, it must be easy to add new nodes. Once a new terminal is attached to the video area network, it is the responsibility of the collaboration-management software to "discover" it and place the addresses and capabilities into a database.

This software-management program also must provide controls to add and drop terminals on a session basis, depending on conference schedules. A further control involves the local and remote supervision of acquisition equipment such as cameras, video tape recorders (VTRs) and analog video switchers.


A working installation based on a dedicated ATM video area network spans several Ohio towns. At the University of Akron, in a K through 16 grant, several area high schools can collaborate with the college. Video collaboration takes place in several ways; however, a four-way distance-education scheme involves geographically separate classrooms in four different learning locations. To ease the setup and provide a transparent experience, each classroom should be similar in layout and capability, allowing control to float between classrooms.

The designated instructor should not have to operate a complicated console or manually patch in students who request attention. Push-to-talk microphones placed on student tables cause the camera to focus on a student at the time of request so that all other locations may see the question/answer speaker without manual switching. Meanwhile, the instructor camera is autotracking and following the teacher while he moves freely within the classroom.

Several MPEG encoders and decoders are employed in the classroom:


* Instructor camera

* Copy stand/VTR

* Student cameras (auto switched)


* Remote classroom 1

* Remote classroom 2

* Remote classroom 3

Note that local audio is removed from the public address system in each classroom to avoid echo. Additionally, participants do not see themselves.


Using ATM SVCs with DS-3 or OC-3 to link all sites, each encoder is a distinct source of compressed video and is multicasting to the network. Each decoder is a node that may be added or dropped from a multicast.

Within the same network, a NetMeeting session may take place on the SmartBoard. This needs no compression and allows full collaborative data sessions to take place concurrently with video tele-presence.


Today, very clear video collaboration may co-exist with data sharing over broadband ATM networks already in place. In the future, the Internet and packet-based topologies will dominate, but there is significant work remaining. With the need for QoS to span both ATM and IP networks, new standards such as MPLS will emerge as the industry standard for reserving resources across a large and disparate infrastructure.

The Interactive MPEG-2 Forum (IM2) standards group formed around the University of Akron in Ohio. About 30 companies (including InnovaCom) participate in bimonthly discussions striving to produce interoperable MPEG conferencing products. Through this effort, the group has established guidelines for signaling, payload exchange, multimedia control and interoperability testing that will allow different manufacturers' equipment to talk to each other and will ensure interoperability among them. Circle 271 for more information from InnovaCom

Levine is vice president of engineering at InnovaCom, Inc., Brisbane, CA.
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Title Annotation:Technology Information
Comment:Asynchronous communications (ATM) networks provide an excellent foundation for the video-rich network applications of the future, such as videoconferencing, workgroup collaboration, distance learning and more.
Author:Levine, Steven Alan
Publication:Communications News
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2000
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