Cisco, Polycom Look to Grow Reach of Telepresence Products

At the InfoComm show, Cisco and Polycom are rolling out telepresence products aimed at a wider range of customers, particularly midmarket and smaller businesses.

When Cisco Systems bought telepresence rival Tandberg last year for $3.3 billion, analysts said Cisco would be able to leverage Tandberg's presence in the midmarket space to expand its video-conferencing offerings into that area.

It was a market Cisco needed to access to continue growing its visual-communications business, the analysts said.

That push down the ladder is continuing, not only for Cisco but also for its biggest rival, Polycom. Both vendors will be showcasing new telepresence offerings aimed at small and midsize businesses-or smaller offices within large enterprises-at the InfoComm 2011 show in Orlando, Fla.

The two vendors are finding a host of competitors looking to challenge them in both pricing and simplicity. On June 8, Vidyo introduced its VidyoPanorama product, which offers an easy-to-use telepresence experience that can be had on a range of standard devices-from smartphones and tablets to PCs and high-end video screens. In addition, Vidyo officials said their telepresence experience can be had for a fraction of the cost of competing systems from Cisco and Polycom.

Cisco on June 14 announced the MX200, a telepresence endpoint geared toward team meetings and personal offices in both its pricing and ease of use. The 42-inch system endpoint offers high-definition 1080p resolution, starts at $21,600 and is a fully integrated one-piece system, with such features as the camera and codec in the endpoint.

In addition, with its auto provisioning, the MX200 takes 12 to 15 minutes to deploy once it comes out of the box, Thomas Wyatt, vice president and general manager of Cisco's TelePresence Infrastructure business, said in an interview with eWEEK.

"Pretty much you turn it on, and it's up and running," Wyatt said.

That is what midmarket companies and SMBs are looking for, he said. Cisco's larger TelePresence systems for enterprises can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and offer a wide range of features that aren't necessary in smaller companies or in smaller environments, according to Wyatt. SMBs are looking at the same kinds of benefits from video collaboration-increased productivity and reduced expenses-as their larger brethren, he said. However, they need systems that are easy to install and cost-effective.

The MX200 is scheduled to be available in July.

On the management side, Cisco also introduced TelePresence Conductor, designed to ensure that multi-party video conferences can scale as needed and in the most efficient way possible. The product monitors multiple MCUs (multipoint control units) and makes sure that the meetings go to the most appropriate endpoint, ensuring high availability, resiliency and scalability, Wyatt said.

"Conductor makes sure to choose the right endpoint ... the right telepresence resources," he said.

It also will move the conference to other systems if there's a power outage, and can enable users to set up impromptu meetings through the use of virtual meeting room ID numbers, according to Cisco.

Conductor will be ready in late 2011, Wyatt said.

Cisco also rolled out other offerings designed to increase interoperability between Cisco and Tandberg endpoints, and those endpoints and standards-based third-party resources.

Wyatt said Cisco is determined to offer large enterprises and SMBs the widest range of video-collaboration technologies to enable them to visually communicate at anytime and from any device. There is always going to be demand for deeply immersive telepresence systems, just as there will be for smaller offerings.

"Customers don't want just the low end, and customers don't just want the high end," he said.

Polycom also is looking to bring its telepresence capabilities to more customers, according to John Antanaitis, the company's vice president of marketing. The vendor's InfoComm news comes two weeks after Polycom officials announced they are buying Hewlett-Packard's visual-communications products-including its Halo telepresence systems-and expanding their partnership with HP.

"What we're trying to do is ... support enterprises, and what we're trying to do is bring the enterprise experience to smaller businesses and consumers," Antanaitis said in an interview with eWEEK.

At InfoComm last year, Polycom introduced its OTX 300 telepresence system. This year, the company is unveiling its OTX 100 offering for smaller businesses and environments, with a single screen that is good for two to four participants, he said. It offers the ability to increase productivity, but at 50 percent of the bandwidth of competitors' solutions-which means a low cost of ownership-and with interoperability with the unified-communications environments of partners with the Polycom Open Collaboration Network, such as Microsoft's Lync and Cisco's CTS systems.

Polycom will offer the OTX 100 starting in October for $99,999. Another version, the OTC 100 Compact-without the integrated furniture and monitors-will start at $79,999.

Polycom also is offering a new release of its UC Intelligent Core, a bridge that supports a wide range of devices, networks and standards, including H.323, TIP, SIP and RTV, he said. It offers each set-up and administration, according to Polycom, and will scale to offer up to 75,000 devices and 25,000 concurrent calls, five times the nearest competitor, the company said. It will be a boon for service providers, who are looking for ways to handle the oncoming flood of collaboration-related traffic, according to Antanaitis.

The upgraded UC Intelligent Core will be available in the third quarter.