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Cisco homes in on virtual meetings

Cisco Systems is trying to change the videoconferencing game with a new system that more closely approximates an in-person meeting.

The Cisco TelePresence virtual meeting system, introduced Oct. 23, was designed to control 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, said 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," Harrell said. "Two people per screen are life-size, [and] you see eye contact and body language."

In a departure from its acquire-and-integrate strategy, about 85 Cisco engineers spent two years developing the technology, Harrell said. Despite an emphasis on time to market, the initial TelePresence products, due in December, are trailing Hewlett-Packards Halo next-generation videoconferencing managed service, which already is available.

"HP did beat them to market, but not by much," said Ellen Daley, an analyst with Forrester Research, in Cambridge, Mass. "Cisco is usually a laggard, but theyre trying to change that."

Cisco took an approach different to that of Halo, which pulls together several components not manufactured by HP, Harrell said. "The biggest difference is that were an IT endpoint," he said. "We allow our customers to put this endpoint on their networks, and the customer can pick their carrier."

Harrell added that HPs Halo requires customers to buy a DS-3 WAN link for the service. Cisco instead has partnered with carriers to deliver the TelePresence system and ensure that the customers network and the carriers QOS (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. It also 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.