Tandberg buys award-winning Ectus but company stays home

Video streaming and archiving capability lures Norwegian money to Waikato. By Paul Brislen

The sale of video-streaming software maker Ectus — a winner at this year’s Computerworld Excellence Awards — to a Norwegian company should be seen as a win for Ectus, says one of the company’s founders.

Hamilton-based Ectus makes software that controls streaming and archiving of video and has been bought out by Tandberg, which claims to be a world leader in videoconferencing or, as the company puts it, “visual conferencing”.

Ectus general manager Mark Topping says the company will become a core research and development centre for Tandberg but will remain based at the Waikato Innovation Park in Hamilton, a move he and his team are delighted with.

“It’s the best of both worlds really.”

Tandberg plans to hit the US$1 billion (NZ$1.43 billion) turnover mark and says the only way to achieve this goal is through acquisition. The estimated NZ$10 million paid for Ectus is an easy way to increase its capabilities, Tandberg Asia–Pacific president Benny Lee said in a videoconference call from Hong Kong last week.

“Ectus gives us this powerful tool in that we can stream and archive video so much better than we could before,” he says.

He says Tandberg is a world leader in visual conferencing because of technology that allows videoconferencing to tunnel through most firewalls.

“Before you had to open a number of ports to the outside world to enable videoconferencing and that meant you were at risk. Today, with Expressway our firewall traversal software, you don’t have to do that at all. Instead you tunnel, providing a far more secure environment for both your network and your videoconferencing requirements.”

Tandberg’s firewall traversal technology has been used by the International Telecommunications Union as the basis for its new standards H460.18 and H460.19, which govern videoconferencing and secure tunnelling through firewalls.

Lee says Tandberg uses the term visual rather than video because the stream can carry more than just video and the sound associated with it. He demonstrated the service by running a PowerPoint presentation from Hong Kong alongside the videoconference communication.

With video running at 30 frames per second and good sound quality, it was hard to tell he was more than ten hours away by air.

“And this whole communication is being conducted over the public internet with a speed of only 384kbit/s,” he added.

Lee says because the company can deliver such good results it is finding buyers beyond the traditional high-end corporations.

“Education is one of our top markets and we’re now looking at smaller companies because they no longer need to buy ISDN or leased lines just to run a videoconference — they can do it over the public internet, where getting a good result 90% of the time is acceptable.”

Ectus will remain a centre of research and development for Tandberg, which has no plans to reduce staff levels or move the intellectual property offshore. Topping says the company grew out of the University of Waikato and is one of the first projects spun off from the university into the Innovation Centre.

“Fifteen months ago we were spun out as a company which was focused, as we saw it then, on e-learning initiatives. However, Tandberg saw more in us than that and here we are bought entirely by them,” he says.

Tandberg is often confused with one of the several other Tandberg companies — typically the tape drive storage company. However, the various Tandberg businesses, while once having shared ownership, are now separate entities.

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