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METHOD AND SYSTEM FOR PARTICIPANT
CONTROL OF PRIVACY DURING MULTIPARTY COMMUNICATION SESSIONS
TECHNICAL FIELD OF THE INVENTION 5
The present invention relates generally to the field of multiparty communications, and more particularly to a method and system for participant control of privacy during multiparty communication sessions. 1°
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
Modern business practices often require that several persons meet on the telephone to engage in a conference call. 15 The conference call has introduced certain applications and techniques that are superior to those found in a meeting with persons physically present in the same location. For example, a conference call attendee who is not participating at the moment may wish to mute their audio output and 20 simply listen to the other conferencee. This allows the particular conferee to work on another project while still participating in the conference.
While the conference call has been substantially helpful in minimizing travel expenses and other costs associated with business over long distances, significant obstacles still remain in accomplishing many tasks with the same efficiency as one would in having a meeting with all persons in the same physical location. For example, while the ability to 3Q talk privately to a particular conferences during a conference call can be provided by offline mechanisms such as text chat channels, this requires the coupling of ASCII entry and display capabilities with a voice terminal on both sides of the private conversation. 35
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
The present invention provides an improved method and system for participant control of privacy during multiparty 40 communication sessions that substantially eliminate or reduce the disadvantages and problems associated with previous systems and methods. In particular, a subset of participants to a conference call or other multiparty communication session may engage in an online sidebar con- 45 versation during the conference without the knowledge of the remaining participants.
In accordance with one embodiment of the present invention, a system and method for participant control of privacy during a multiparty communication connection includes 50 receiving a request from a first participant to the multiparty connection for a sidebar between the first participant and a second participant to the multiparty connection. The sidebar is provided by at least substantially eliminating voice streams generated by the first participant and the second 55 participant from the conference output streams generated for a set of remaining participants to the multiparty connection.
More specifically, in accordance with a particular embodiment of the present invention, the voice streams of the first and second participant may be entirely eliminated from the 60 conference output streams generated for the set of remaining participants. In this and other embodiments, voice streams generated by the set of remaining participants may be removed, attenuated, or otherwise minimized from and/or in the conference output streams generated for the first and 65 second participants. The conference output streams may be monaural or stereo streams.
Technical advantages of the present invention include providing an improved method and system for participant control of privacy during multiparty communication sessions. In one or more embodiments, a privacy feature allows a subset of participants to converse online with each other during a multiparty session without the knowledge of the remaining participants. Accordingly, participants on a conference call or other multiparty session may each customize characteristics of the call without affecting other participants.
Another technical advantage of one or more embodiments of the present invention includes providing an improved conference bridge. In particular, the conference bridge provides sidebar conferences between requesting parties of a conference call. Accordingly, the conference bridge allows participants to each customize call characteristics to suit their particular needs and to more efficiently conduct business during the call.
Other technical advantages of the present invention will be readily apparent to one skilled in the art from the following figures, description and claims.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
For a more complete understanding of the present invention and its advantages, reference is now made to the following description taken in conjunction with the accompanying drawings, wherein like numerals represent like parts, in which:
FIG. 1 is a block diagram illustrating a communications system in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention;
FIG. 2 is a block diagram illustrating details of the conference bridge of FIG. 1 in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention;
FIG. 3 is a block diagram illustrating a monaural mixer for the conference bridge of FIG. 2 in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention;
FIG. 4 is a block diagram illustrating the monaural mixer of FIG. 3 configured to provide a sidebar conference during a conference call in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention;
FIG. 5 is a block diagram illustrating a summer for the monaural mixer of FIG. 3 in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention;
FIG. 6 is a block diagram illustrating a stereo mixer for the conference bridge of FIG. 2 in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention;
FIG. 7 is a block diagram illustrating spatial placements of participants in a stereo conference stream generated by the stereo mixer of FIG. 6 in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention;
FIG. 8 is a block diagram illustrating the stereo mixer of FIG. 6 configured to provide a sidebar conference during a conference call in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention;
FIG. 9 is a block diagram illustrating spatial movement of sidebar participants to a position of higher prominence in a stereo conference stream in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention;
FIG. 10 is a block diagram illustrating the directional processors and summers of the stereo mixer of FIG. 6 in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention; and
FIG. 11 is a flow diagram illustrating a method for providing sidebars during a conference call in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention.
DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE
FIG. 1 illustrates a communications system 12 in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention. In this 5 embodiment, the communications system 12 is a distributed system transmitting audio, video, voice, data and other suitable types of real-time and non real-time traffic between source and destination endpoints.
Referring to FIG. 1, the communications system 12 10 includes a network 14 connecting a plurality of communication devices 16 to each other and to standard analog telephones 18 through a gateway 20 and the public switched telephone network (PSTN) 22. The communication devices 16, standard analog telephones 18 and gateway 20 are 15 connected to the network 14 and/or PSTN 22 through twisted pair, cable, fiber optic, radio frequency, infrared, microwave and/or any other suitable type of wireline or wireless links 28.
In one embodiment, the network 14 is the Internet, a wide 20 area network (WAN), a local area network (LAN) or other suitable packet-switched network. In the Internet embodiment, the network 14 transmits information in Internet Protocol (IP) packets. Telephony voice information is transmitted in the Voice over IP (VoIP) format. Real-time IP 25 packets such as VoIP packets are encapsulated in real-time transport protocol (RTP) packets for transmission over the network 14. It will be understood that the network 14 may comprise any other suitable types of elements and links and that traffic may be otherwise suitably transmitted using other 30 protocols and formats.
The communication devices 16 comprise IP or other digital telephones, personal and other suitable computers or computing devices, personal digital assistants (PDAs), cell or other mobile telephones or handset or any other device or 35 set of devices such as the telephone 18 and gateway 20 combination capable of communicating real-time audio, video and/or other information over the network 14. The communication devices 16 also communicate control information with the network 14 to control call setup, teardown 40 and processing as well as call services.
For voice calls, the communication devices 16 comprise real-time applications that play traffic as it is received or substantially as it is received and to which packet delivery cannot be interrupted without severely degrading perfor- 45 mance. A codec (coder/decoder) converts audio, video or other suitable signals generated by users from analog signals into digital form. The digital encoded data is encapsulated into IP or other suitable packets for transmission over the network 14. IP packets received from the network 14 are 50 converted back into analog signals and played to the user. It will be understood that the communication devices 16 may otherwise suitably encode and decode signals transmitted over or received from the network 14.
The gateway 20 provides conversion between analog 55 and/or digital formats. The standard analog telephones 18 communicate standard telephony signals through PSTN 22 to the gateway 20. At the gateway 20, the signals are converted to IP packets in the VoIP format. Similarly, VoIP packets received from the network 14 are converted into 60 standard telephony signals for delivery to the destination telephone 18 through PSTN 22. The gateway 20 also translates between the network call control system and the Signaling System 7 (SS7) protocol and other signaling protocols used in PSTN 22. 65
In one embodiment, the network 14 includes a call manager 30 and a conference bridge 32. The call manager 30
and the conference bridge 32 may be located in a central facility or have their functionality distributed across and/or at the periphery of the network 14. The call manager 30 and the conference bridge 32 are connected to the network 14 by any suitable type of wireline or wireless link. In another embodiment, the network 14 may be operated without the call manager 30, in which case the communication devices 16 may communicate control information directly with each other or with other suitable network elements. In this embodiment, services are provided by the communication devices 16 and/or other suitable network elements.
The call manager 30 manages calls in the network 14. A call is any communication session between two or more parties. The parties may be persons and/or equipment such as computers. The sessions may include real-time connections, connections having real-time characteristics, non realtime connections and/or a combination of connection types.
The call manager 30 is responsive to service requests from the communication devices 16, including the standard telephones 18 through the gateway 20. For example, the call manager 30 may provide voicemail, bridging, multicasting, call hold, conference call and other multiparty communications and/or other suitable services for the communications devices 16. The call manager 30 provides services by performing the services, controlling performance of the services, delegating performance of the services and/or by otherwise initiating the services.
The conference bridge 32 provides conference call and other suitable audio, video, and/or real-time multiparty communication sessions between communication devices 16. A multiparty communication session includes three or more parties exchanging audio and/or other suitable information. In particular, the conference bridge 32 receives media from participating devices 16 and, using suitable signal processing techniques, mixes the media to produce conference signals. During normal operation, each device 16 receives a conference signal that includes contributions from all other participating devices. As used herein, the term each means everyone of at least a subset of the identified items.
As described in more detail below, the conference bridge 32 provides for independent participant control of privacy during multiparty communications sessions. In particular, the conference bridge 32 provides a privacy feature that allows each participant of a multiparty connection to speak in-band to other selected participants in a sidebar during the session without the knowledge of the remaining participants. Thus, participants on a conference call or other multiparty communications session may each customize parameter for the call to suit their needs without affecting other participants.
In operation, a call initiation request is first sent to the call manager 30 when a call is placed over the network 14. The call initiation request may be generated by a communication device 16 and/or the gateway 20 for telephones 18. Once the call manager 30 receives the call initiation request, the call manager 30 sends a signal to the initiating communication device 16 and/or gateway 20 for telephones 18 offering to call the destination device. If the destination device can accept the call, the destination device replies to the call manager 30 that it will accept the call. By receiving this acceptance, the call manager 30 transmits a signal to the destination device causing it to ring. When the call is answered, the call manager 30 instructs the called device and the originating device to begin media streaming to each other. If the originating device is a PSTN telephone 18, the
media streaming occurs between the gateway 20 and the destination device. The gateway 20 then transmits the media to the telephone 18.
For conference calls, the call manager 30 identifies participants based on the called number or other suitable 5 criteria. The call manager 30 controls the conference bridge 32 to set up, process and tear down conference calls and other multiparty communication sessions. During the multiparty communications sessions, participants are connected and stream media through the conference bridge 32. The 10 media is cross connected and mixed to produce conference output streams for each participant. The conference output stream for a participant includes the media of all other participants, a subset of other participants or other suitable mix dictated by the type of multiparty session and/or the 15 participant.
To support independent participant control of privacy, the call manager 30 may receive sidebar control signals from the individual participants and pass the signals onto the conference bridge 32 for implementation of the sidebars by adjust- 20 ment of the conference output streams. In another embodiment, the communication devices 16 may directly communicate the sidebar control signals to the conference bridge 32 for implementation of the sidebars. The sidebar control signals may comprise sidebars request, acceptance, 25 denial and termination signals as well as parameters for customizing the conference output streams for sidebar participants. The sidebar control signals may be call signaling messages and may be generated by the communication devices 16, telephones 18 and/or gateway 20 by or in 30 response to hard key, soft key, feature button or sequence of keypad presses with a user interface.
FIG. 2 illustrates details of the conference bridge 32 in accordance with one embodiment of the present invention. In this embodiment, the conference bridge 32 provides 35 real-time multiparty audio connections between three or more participants. It will be understood that the conference bridge 32 may support other types of suitable multiparty communications sessions including real-time audio streams without departing from the scope of the present invention. 40
Referring to FIG. 2, conference bridge 32 concludes a controller 50, buffers 52, converters 54, normalizer 56, mixer 58 and database 60. The controller 50, buffers 52, converters 54, normalize 56, adaptive summers 58 and database 60 of the conference bridge as well as other suitable 45 components of the communications system 12 may comprise logic encoded in media. Logic comprises functional instructions for carrying out programmed tasks. The media comprises computer disks or other suitable computer-readable media, applications specific integrated circuits (ASIC), 50 field programmable gate arrays (FPGA) or other suitable specific or general purpose processors, transmission media or other suitable media in which logic may be encoded and utilized.
The controller 50 directs the other components of the 55 conference bridge 32 and communicates with the call manager 30 to set up, process and tear down conference calls. The controller 50 also receives sidebar control signals from participants either directly from the communication devices 16 or through the call manager 30. The sidebar control 60 signals are stored in the database 60.
The buffers 52 include input and output buffers. The input buffers receive and buffer packets of input audio streams from participants for processing by the conference bridge 32. The output buffers receive and buffer conference output 65 streams generated by the conference bridge 32 for transmissions to participants. In a particular embodiment, a particular
input buffer or set of input buffer resources are assigned to each audio input stream and a particular output buffer or set of output buffer resources are assigned to each conference output stream. The input and output buffers may be associated with corresponding input and output parts or interfaces and perform error check, packet loss prevention, packet ordering and congestion control functions.
The converters 54 include input and output converters. The input converters receive input packets of a participant from a corresponding buffer and convert the packet from the native format of the participant's device 16 to a standard format of the conference bridge 32 for cross linking and processing in the conference bridge 32. Conversely, the output converters receive conference output streams for participants in the standard format and convert the conference output streams to the native format of participant's devices. In this way, the conference bridge 32 allows participants to connect using a variety of devices and technologies.
The normalizers 56 include input and/or output normalizers. The normalizers received packets from the input audio streams in a common format and normalize the timing of the packets for cross connections in the mixer 58.
The mixer 58 includes a plurality of summers or other suitable signal processing resources each operable to sum, add or otherwise combine a plurality of input streams into conference output streams for participants to a conference call. As described in more detail below, the mixer 58 may be a monaural mixer or a stereo mixer. Once the mixer 58 has generated the conference output streams, each conference output stream is converted by a corresponding converter and buffered by a corresponding output buffer for transmission to the corresponding participant.
The database 60 includes a set of conference parameters 62 for each ongoing conference call of the conference bridge 32. The conference parameters 62 for each conference call include an identification of participants 64 and sidebar parameters 66 for the conference call. In one embodiment, the participants are identified at the beginning of a conference call based on caller ID, phone number or other suitable identifier. The sidebar parameters may be initially set to a default value of no sidebars and adjusted during a conference call based on sidebar control signals. The sidebar request and other sidebar control signals may be received from the participants in-band with the audio stream or over a control link or channel. Each sidebar signal should directly or indirectly identify the participant generating the signal as well as the sidebar and/or participants to which it applies.
FIGS. 3-5 illustrate components and operation of the mixer 58 in a monaural embodiment of the present invention. In particular, FIG. 3 illustrates details of a monaural mixer 80 in accordance with a particular embodiment. FIG. 4 illustrates the monaural mixer 80 configured to provide a sidebar conference between selected participants of a conference call. FIG. 5 illustrates details of a summer 82 of the monaural mixer 80. It will be understood that a monaural mixer may be otherwise suitably implemented without departing from the scope of the present invention.
Referring to FIG. 3, the monaural mixer 80 receives participant input streams 84 and combines the streams in summers 82 to generate conference output streams 86 for each participant to a conference call. In one embodiment, each participant is assigned a summer 82 that receives audio input streams from each other participant to the conference call and sidebar parameters for the input streams. The summer 82 combines the audio input streams based on the