Cisco Unveils Rugged TelePresence Endpoint, ISDN Appliances

The new TelePresence VX Tactical is aimed at such difficult environments as the military and emergency response.

Cisco System is rolling out a ruggedized version of its TelePresence immersive video conferencing endpoint that is designed for such harsh environments as the military, emergency response, oil and gas, and construction sites.

The release of the new VX Tactical endpoint€”as well as the ISDN (integrated services digital network) Link and ISDN Gateway€”are part of the effort by Cisco officials to expand the reach of immersive telepresence beyond corporate boardrooms and into mainstream businesses of all sizes. Cisco announced that initiative in October 2011, with the goal of growing its market share lead over the likes of Polycom and newcomers like Vidyo.

The ruggedized endpoint is another step in expanding the reach of telepresence technology, which is designed to give the impression of in-person communications. The TelePresence VX Tactical includes a high-impact plastic shell that includes an interior frame made of aluminum to improve structural strength, according to Mike Baird, director of product management at Cisco.

The endpoint also is water-, sand-, chemical- and rust-resistant.

€œIt can be used virtually anywhere€”in a Humvee, tank, fire truck, even on an oil rig€”so that, anywhere you can get an Internet connection, whether it be IP, WiFi, 3G, 4G or satellite, you have TelePresence with you,€ Baird said in a June 4 post on the networking vendor€™s Video Blog.

The issue of connectivity is also the reason for the new ISDN offerings, he said. The TelePresence ISDN Link is a small appliance that provides ISDN and external network connectivity, which is increasingly important for places like small branch offices, banks in smaller cities and more remote areas, which may only have ISDN connectivity, making it difficult to use Cisco€™s TelePresence endpoints. With the new ISDN Link, users can leverage a larger number of TelePresence endpoints, including EX, MX, SX and C Series devices.

The ISDN Link is good for ISDN connectivity with one or two endpoints, Baird said. The ISDN Gateway offers ISDN connectivity for multiple endpoints.

Cisco continues to be the top player in the video conferencing space, which is undergoing a transformation away from larger, more expensive boardroom systems to software offerings that can turn various devices€”from desktop PCs to notebooks, tablets and smartphones€”into video conferencing endpoints.

In the first three months of the year, overall revenue in the video conferencing space grew 14.4 percent over the same period in 2011, with the single-codec telepresence and personal video conferencing segments rising 28.5 percent and 52.6 percent, respectively, according to IDC analysts. However, revenues for larger multi-codec telepresence fell 38.7 percent, caused in part by video conferencing moving down into enterprises, which look for less complex and more affordable options to the large immersive offerings that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The major players are responding to the trend. Cisco executives have said they are expanding their video software capabilities€”though they still see a need for strong endpoints€”while Polycom last year embarked on an effort to become more of a video communications software vendor. In May, Polycom officials rolled out a rebranding of the company, focusing on software and mobile and offering a new logo.