Cisco, BT Tapped by Pepsico for Telepresence Deployment

Pepsico taps Cisco and BT for a telepresence initiative that will roll out in the company's major offices worldwide. The project will use Cisco's TelePresence technology and BT's services. The move illustrates the growing enterprise demand for telepresence technologies, and the need for interoperability between vendor systems. Cisco and Polycom differ on the ways to establish interoperability standards.

A decision by Pepsico to deploy Cisco Systems' TelePresence solution illustrates the growing demand for the technology, which can help enterprises improve collaboration and reduce expenses.

The giant food company announced Feb. 2 that it will use Cisco's solution and services from BT to improve collaboration with partners and reduce travel expenses.

The decision comes at a time when telepresence technology is becoming a hot-button topic and a sector of the tech industry that is getting a lot of attention from businesses and vendors alike.

Tandberg, which is in the process of being bought by Cisco for $3.4 billion, announced Feb. 2 that it is rolling out a new display-the Codec C40-that is designed to expand the market for telepresence technologies.

In addition, vendors are beginning to debate the issue of interoperability among the various telepresence offerings, with Cisco officials a week ago announcing a new protocol designed to help with interoperability. Several vendors have signed up for the protocol, and Tandberg announced Jan. 28 that it had successfully demonstrated interoperability with a Cisco TelePresence technology using the protocol.

However, officials with Polycom say they are uncomfortable with the idea of a top market vendor leading the interoperability drive, arguing that the development of protocols should be left to third-party standards boards.

For Pepsico, the move to adopt a telepresence solution was about saving money, improving productivity and lessening its impact on the environment.

"The new collaboration strategy with BT and Cisco will reinvent the way we work," Robert Dixon, senior vice president and global CIO for the company, said in a statement. "Global virtue meeting collaboration will enable us to travel less, which will allow for greater productivity and a smaller environmental footprint."

Pepsico will use Cisco's TelePresence systems throughout its major offices across the globe and will rely on BT for "concierge-level" services, such as capabilities throughout Pepsico that will enable greater collaboration with its distributors and retailers.

Telepresence multiscreen technology is designed to create an immersive environment-from the audio and visual experience to the collaboration features and room design-that gives participants the feel of a face-to-face meeting, even though they may be many miles apart.

A growing number of vendors are looking to gain traction in the space. Cisco's bid to buy Tandberg will help the company expand its reach into the SME space. Logictech is getting into the game through its $405 million purchase of LifeSize Communications. At the same time, vendors like Polycom, Radvision and Mitel are growing their capabilities.

That's helping drive the need for greater interoperability between vendor systems, something Cisco officials say they are trying to enhance through the introduction of their TIP (Telepresence Interoperability Protocol), which will help expand the reach of the technology. Cisco said that Tandberg, LifeSize and Radvision already have signed licensing agreements for the protocol.

One company that won't be signing on is Polycom. Joe Sigrist, senior vice president and general manager of Polycom's video solutions unit, said in an interview that he is wary of a protocol push being driven by a vendor the size of Cisco, particularly when there have been successful standards-including H.264 and H.239-established through independent bodies for single-display video conferencing. There's no reason standards for multidisplay telepresence systems also can't be established through third-party bodies.

"We're not participating in this so-called standards initiative [by Cisco]," he said.

Cisco officials said when they released the TIP that they hoped eventually to bring it to a standards body.

Roopam Jain, an analyst with Frost & Sullivan, said businesses are going to expect interoperability between vendor systems.

"Telepresence has been recognized as a game-changing technology in today's business world," Jain said via e-mail. "However, users want the assurance that it can extend to both intra-company and inter-company communications. As a result, interoperability is becoming a key issue to ensure that telepresence users are not only able to connect to other telepresence users, but also to the large installed base of room-based videoconferencing systems and desktop video users."

Taking the initiative was a smart move by Cisco, she said.

"This is Cisco's first major push to establish its commitment to developing telepresence standards and interoperability," Jain said. "Also, it opens up new opportunities for service providers to use Cisco's telepresence protocol to connect to other vendors' solutions, making business-to-business telepresence a reality, regardless of which vendors' products are being used."