Latitude Improves Voice/Data Conferencing

SANTA CLARA, CALIF. (04/10/2000) - For companies looking to save money by eliminating travel and having more collaboration done electronically, Latitude Communications may have an answer.

Latitude hopes its new MeetingPlace 2000 will let corporations put conferencing capabilities on every desktop. The release features voice-over-IP support, integration with Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Notes, and browser and Palm VII access for scheduling and launching a conference.

At its core, MeetingPlace is an audio- and data-conferencing server.

Users listen and talk to one another over the phone, and share data and applications on their PCs using a T.120 document conferencing-compliant application such as Microsoft NetMeeting. The server uses a real-time operating system and can handle up to 120 concurrent connections, though multiple servers can be linked for greater capacity, says Bob Tate, vice president of marketing at Latitude.

As a means of boosting capacity, Latitude is building a server architecture that is client agnostic.

On the audio side, Latitude will support plain old telephone service, soft phones, IP PBXs, PBXs and streaming audio (for listen-only participants).

Latitude and Cisco are currently testing how Cisco's CallManager line and MeetingPlace work together, Tate says.

A way in

For data conferencing, MeetingPlace 2000 will work with Microsoft Exchange Server 2000, NetMeeting 2.0 and Lotus Sametime. To make the product friendlier to corporate firewalls, Latitude has developed a technology that lets the T.120 protocol tunnel through the firewall, so outside users can participate in the conference, as well.

With this release, users will be able to schedule and join conferences from a built-in Web portal called InfoCenter, handhelds, groupware systems (Notes and Exchange), as well as by phone.

Once a conference is scheduled, the server sends out e-mail notification to each participant with a link that will connect them to the conference. Users, including those on the Palm VII platform, will also be able to instruct the server to "find" conference participants by dialing a preset list of phone numbers (desk, mobile and home) for each participant. Tate says this feature is handy for those that have to set up emergency or ad hoc meetings on the fly.

Users can call into the server or have the server call them to join a conference.

Kelly Dwyer, chief information officer of Mercer Management in Lexington, Massachusetts, is excited about some of the new features Latitude is planning.

He's already saved his company money on conferencing costs by bringing the Latitude server in house.

He says the company is using 100,000 minutes of conferencing per month.

"Literally, we only have to pay network access charges [for the data conferencing] and basic long distance," Dwyer says. He's cut out the cost of the third-party hosting the conference.

Looking ahead, Latitude hopes to add video-streaming capabilities, as well as a means of capturing everything that happens during a conference, including the data-conferencing portion, according to Tate. The current version of Latitude can only capture the audio portion.

MeetingPlace 2000 starts at around $100,000 for the server, with the Web component priced at $4,995 per server and the data-conferencing piece at $275 per concurrent user. Support for voice over IP and mobile users as well as the Web component will be available in the second quarter.

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