Cisco Asks: Ready for Your Close-Up?

By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2006-10-25

Cisco Asks: Ready for Your Close-Up?

SAN JOSE, Calif.-If Cisco Systems and its effervescent president and CEO, John Chambers, are right-and they have been right a lot of the time-the company's new TelePresence system or something like it will indeed become a killer app for business, education, government and even consumer use.

On the surface, TelePresence doesn't sound like it would be that big a deal. TelePresence is simply a set of video conferencing screens large enough to show extremely high-definition, life-size images of people placed at the same table with you-so that it appears they are actually in the room.

In fact, your meeting guests in London, Singapore or wherever are so "in the room," that sometimes you forget and want to offer them refills of their lattes.

I was invited to experience TelePresence at the launch a couple of days ago. I have to say it was very impressive. The video and audio was flawless, and there was no latency that I could ascertain. The leader started and stopped the meeting with one button on a special telephone readout.

What could be easier than that? The most difficult thing, it turns out, is to simply get all the meeting participants in the two rooms to sit down at the appointed coordinates.

Click here to read more about TelePresence.

So, with the technicalities not getting in the way, you find yourself focusing quickly on (and not necessarily in this order):

A) the business at hand;

B) whether your hair is combed; and

C) the subtle expressions made by people around the table during conversation that are so important in making judgments about people.

Don't bother to deny it; we make judgments all day long. Is he telling the truth? What is she not telling me? Does he believe what I just told him? That woman's got quite an attitude! And so on.

Next Page: Non-verbal communication.


-verbal Communication">

Most important communication is non-verbal

"Many studies have shown that about two-thirds of all communication is non-verbal," Chambers said. "In business, non-verbal communication is particularly important-especially when it involves interacting with other cultures. The nuances and subtleties of person-to-person communication are much more apparent using this system.

"This system is unlike any other kind of teleconferencing available today, simply because of the quality of the presentation. We have a lot of expertise in all of this technology, and we've built this system completely from the ground up. Were leveraging all that we've learned about transporting video, data, voice ... plus mobile technology, and unity messaging-all right here.

"What it gets down to is this: Real business gets done in person-to-person situations, and this helps make real business happen."

This kind of ultra-magnified audio and video-along with its positioning at eye-level-brings a whole new dimension to the common acts of doing business: meeting, talking, sharing information, making decisions, noting private judgments, etc.

You really cannot appreciate the effect the TelePresence has until you actually sit down at the "meeting" and start interacting with folks who are a half-dozen time zones away.

"In all my time in business," Chambers told eWEEK during the demo, "I have never, ever come across a product like this-one that I know will completely change the way a company or organization does business right off the bat, as soon as it's installed.

"It will change the way the company does its business-for the better. It will improve time to market, because meetings and decisions will be facilitated faster. And it will immediately start taking costs off the bottom line, in terms of travel, hotels, etc."

Thats saying something for Chambers, who's been head honcho at Cisco since 1995 and has led the company from a $1.2 billion annual take to more than $25 billion yearly in that span of time.

Chambers said he expects his company to save $100 million internally in travel costs the first year alone. Cisco already has 110 TelePresence rooms set up in locations around the world and is using them almost daily.

"When business leaders see this thing, they get it-immediately," he said.

Next Page: Systems pay for themselves.

Systems Pay for Themselves

Systems will pay for themselves quickly

Chambers said that TelePresence will be marketed on a subscription basis and will cost between $10,000 and $12,000 per month for the service.

"This thing will pay for itself in terms of lowered travel costs in no time, especially for large companies," Chambers said.

A single-screen TelePresence 1000 (for two virtual people) costs $79,000 for the equipment and setup. A three-screen TelePresence 3000 (for six virtual people) costs $299,000. The operating costs are covered by the monthly fees.

The screen resolution is remarkable: 1080p (the number 1080 represents 1,080 lines of vertical resolution, while the letter p stands for progressive scan or non-interlaced; 1080p is considered an HDTV video mode), which is twice that of current high-definition video and six times that of standard video quality.

Amazingly, the required bandwidth isn't out of the ordinary; TelePresence uses only about 12 to 15MB per second for its super-high quality streaming video.

The system also is set up to show documents on a central screen, so that all participants can view them at the same time. A user simply holds the document over a "hot spot" on the table to show it to all participants.

At the moment, TelePresence is able to link two locations anywhere in the world. By this time next year, customers will be able to mix and match several locations at a time within their own setups, Chambers said.

TelePresence is certainly not cheap. But many Fortune 1000 companies routinely spend in six figures per month in terms of travel and hotel costs, so the investment here isn't particularly daunting.

"Were going full-steam ahead on this," Chambers said. "I'm fully expecting that we will have 132 new sites set up in the next 15 months."

Travel agents won't be too pleased. And when the airlines and hospitality industries get wind of this, they also will be wishing for the good old days.

Think about it. Companies will be sending their best experts and representatives to their TelePresence rooms for high-level meetings, rather than to the Ritz-Carlton or local Sheraton. Cabbies, restaurants, and golf courses will be hit hard. All the things that this new technology brings literally to the table will also affect other industries in an adverse way.

Disrupting other industries

But that's the way with most new technologies. Successful disrupted industries will adjust.

"Wow, I can see some really interesting inter-continental poker games using this setup," one person said.

"This would put a whole new spin on the speed-dating thing," said another participant.

The Cisco people nodded knowingly. You could read it in their faces-the live ones in the room and the virtual ones in New York. "These reporters are really getting it," they were thinking.

"What about health care?" Chambers said. "You can't always get the world's best experts to see you in person when you're sick, but using this, you can visit with them virtually and therefore get access to the highest level of health care possible."

Then the wheels really started turning in the room. Government could use this for meetings of all kinds-especially last-minute diplomatic gatherings in which time is of the essence. Long-distance education could benefit. The military, scattered around the world, would certainly find uses.

Perhaps even families spread across the globe may find it worth the cost. Everybody can use up-close-and-personal communication tools like this one.

Oh, yes, there's another point of information. You can see an actual demonstration of TelePresence in the privacy of your own home on your local Fox Network television channel. It will be featured in a new crime show called "Vanished," which will air Oct. 27 at 8 p.m. Eastern and Pacific Time. Viewer discretion is advised, the network said.

In the show, detectives stage a teleconference using TelePresence so they can discuss catching a murderer.

"Our logo is right there, plain as day," Chambers said with a smile. "They even mention Cisco in the script."

Talk about product placement.

Anything else?

TelePresence doesn't enable actual handshaking or hugging across the table. But Cisco's probably already working on it.

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