The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has ratified two new standards that should overcome one of the biggest hurdles facing video-conferencing: making connections through different companies' firewalls.

The major players have individual systems for getting around the issue with the H.323 protocol, but now standards H.460.18 and H.460.19 define how firewall/NAT traversal should be implemented. The standards themselves are based on work done in part by three competitors in the video-conferencing market: Tandberg, Radvision and Polycom.

"It's great progress forward," said Derrick Fitzgerald, director of product marketing for Polycom. "Typical firewall solutions for video conferencing are solved at enterprise level - we have several products to do that - but [a similar offering] is missing at the service provider level. It’s very difficult for one enterprise to talk to another enterprise when using a hosted solution."

Tandberg is already supporting the new standard with its Expressway product, from which a number of patents were contributed to the ITU effort. "We had to make some minor tweaks, but had it out in the market place after the standard went public," said Snorre Kjesbu, vice president of technology and innovation at Tandberg. Customers just need to download a new software update for the Tandberg Border Controller.

Polycom is a bit further away from releasing compliant products. The company will be adding the standard to its VSX and PVX line of video endpoints and adding it to the V2IU firewall system. Beta products should be out later this year, with general availability planned for early next year.

When implemented, a Polycom endpoint in Company A should be able to connect with a Tandberg endpoint in Company B over an IP connection with multiple firewalls between the two points.

"It’s important to know that there are a lot of different firewall scenarios out there and we’re gradually knocking them off," Fitzgerald said. "We’ve got one from the enterprise and now we’re doing it for the hosted for service providers."