Cisco Systems on Oct. 23 will attempt to change the videoconferencing game when it takes the wraps off its Cisco TelePresence system that more closely resembles an in-person meeting.
The new Cisco TelePresence virtual meeting system was designed from the ground up to create a meeting experience that is as close as possible to a live, in-person meeting. The comprehensive system controls all aspects of the virtual meeting—down to the physical conference table, lighting, room design, and audio and video inputs—to provide a high-quality experience, according to Randy Harrell, director of product marketing in Ciscos new TelePresence systems business unit in San Jose, Calif.
"With the virtual table experience, we take a conference table, cut it in half and add 2,000 miles, but you still have the same human factors. Two people per screen are life size, you see eye contact and body language. All the components delivered on that promise," he said.
In a departure from its acquire and integrate strategy of innovation, about 85 Cisco engineers spent two years developing the technology with an emphasis on innovation. "Were one of the best funded startups in the Valley," quipped Harrell.
Despite an emphasis on time-to-market, the initial TelePresence system products, due in December, are trailing Hewlett-Packards Halo next-generation videoconferencing managed service to the market.
"HP did beat them to market, but not by much. Cisco is usually a laggard, but theyre trying to change that," said Ellen Daley, an analyst with Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass.
Cisco took a very different approach from the Halo system, which pulls together several components not manufactured by HP, according to Harrell.
"The biggest difference is that were an IT end point," he said. "We allow our customers to put this end point on their networks, and the customer can pick their carrier," claimed Harrell, who added that the Halo managed service requires customers to buy a DS-3 WAN link for the service.
Cisco instead has chosen to partner with carriers to deliver the TelePresence system and ensure that the customers network as well as the carriers quality of service and security mechanisms integrate to provide the necessary security and bandwidth. Harrell estimated that a virtual meeting requires 10M bps to 12M bps of bandwidth instead of the DS-3s 45M bps. And it can share the connection with existing enterprise traffic.
The first two product instantiations of the system include the Cisco TelePresence 1000 for small-group meetings and one-on-one conversations and the Cisco TelePresence 3000 for meetings of up to 12 people.
The CTS 1000 is a single-screen version that streams video streams at 1,080-pixel screen resolution—double the quality of high-definition TV. It also streams high-fidelity audio. The CTS 3000 streams three 1,080-pixel video streams and four discrete high-fidelity audio streams.
The systems come with a high price tag—at least a $250,000 street price, estimated Harrell. That could limit the potential market for the system, Daley said.
"Cisco may think this will be the game changer for what hasnt been solved for videoconferencing in the enterprise. No one used it because it was a really bad experience. But its going to be very difficult for it to travel beyond the executive suite at $300,000 a pair," she said.
Cisco initially chose to work with 24 channel partners, which it has trained over the last six months, to take the system to market. An inspector from the new business unit will perform assessment to ensure that the network and environment are correct.
Cisco with the TelePresence system is seeking to control all aspects of the environment to ensure a high-quality experience. Toward that end, it is specifying the conference room construction, lighting, paint and more, which the inspector will verify.
"Weve gone to great lengths to deliver the quality. We want to make sure the room is right, the paint is right, so Cisco built the [conference] table, the light balance, [and specified] the ceiling lighting as fill lighting. We control paint selection, color tune lighting, and the drop power and network. I want two guys to install this in two days with no building permits. Well build another door into your company," said Harrell, who added that the room dimensions must be at least 15 by 20 feet.
Cisco has worked with carriers for the last year to help them prepare new WAN services for TelePresence deployments.
"We worked with carrier partners to design the architecture and create design guides for what they do in their [Multi Protocol Label Switching] cores and last mile to deliver continuity like dial tone," he said. "You will see commercial [services] come to market in the last half of 07 from our Tier 1 providers."
The TelePresence system integrates with Ciscos Call Manager VOIP (voice over IP) software as well as its security mechanisms. It also integrates with groupware such as Microsofts Outlook, to allow videoconferences to be scheduled within a familiar tool.
The Call Manager integration allows videoconference calls to be made as easily as touching the screen on a Cisco IP phone.