Teleconferencing in the 90s

In early 1995, I was testing Ahlström’s first prototype teleconferencing system, which was implemented on a 64kbit/s ‘half-line’ between Helsinki and San Diego, through Atlanta, using dedicated hardware to emulate a private ISDN network over Frame Relay. The primary use for the (very expensive) dedicated connection was the global ERP solution based on HP3000 minicomputers at each factory site. But since there was extra capacity, the management wanted to see if teleconferencing could lower travel costs and support faster decision-making.

Those large cathode-ray tube televisions and movie-shooting-style video cameras looked formidable compared to today’s flat screens and almost hidden cameras. I vividly remember how after hours of parameter tuning, I finally got the video feed working and saw Dr. Visuri, Ahlström Pyropower’s CTO on the other side of the planet.

What happened during the next couple of hours was even more memorable, as although it was quite late in the evening in Helsinki, the group CEO knocked on the conference room door and asked whether the system is already operational. Well I had it working for almost an hour, so I said yes. The group CEO then asked me and Dr. Visuri to remain in the connected conference rooms while his team engaged in apparent conclusion talks of selling the Pyropower unit to Foster Wheeler, a US energy technology company.

After they ended the meeting, we stared at each other with Dr. Visuri for a moment, after which he said “It looks like we started the meeting in one company but completed it in two”.

Many of my ever-current business lessons originate from my first job at Ahlström, which always kept digital technology on the front line of their competitive edge. The role of my prototype teleconferencing system was small, but the overall effect on the other side’s negotiators was very clear – the seller masters technology, and so the asset commands a premium price.

Now, 25 years later, I’m so proud to see how BaseN is the transformation agent for many blue-chip and startup customers alike. Our deep knowledge of data networking and distributed, mission critical systems makes us the new standard for digital and digitally augmented physical products. The real business starts on BaseN.



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