Cisco Dials Up Videoconferencing
"There's such a disdain in upper management here for videoconferencing," says Randy Harrell, a director of product marketing for Cisco. He tells of one executive who intentionally shows up 15 minutes late for any videoconference, hoping that the folks on the other end got impatient and hung up.
Videoconferencing has gotten a bad reputation during the past decade for jerky video and low-quality audio. Whether that's deserved or not, Cisco now has a lot to gain by dissing old-school videoconferencing, as the company is trotting out a new high-end system that's intended to produce a more lifelike feel.
It might also create possibilities for service providers, as it creates potential new services and a way to get more video usage -- and therefore more consumed bandwidth -- out of corporate customers.
"We have carrier partners who are very interested. It looks billable. It requires QOS," Harrell says.
The Cisco TelePresence 3000, being unveiled today, is the culmination of a two-year project to create the dream videoconferencing system, complete with high-definition plasma screens and life-sized images -- that is, the people on the other end are the appropriate size for someone a table's width away.
To use the system, though, an enterprise has to throw itself on the mercy of Cisco. "This is all Cisco-built -- everything but the chairs," Harrell says, surveying the TelePresence room being used for press demos.
TelePresence consists of three video screens (60-inch plasma, 1080 pixels), each meant to display two people (for a total of 12 -- six on either end of the link). The TelePresence room has a table set in a semicircular arc, so that when both ends of the connection are live, users see the illusion of one round table, the shape of an open hoop. Speakers on the screens are life-sized for the distance involved -- that is, they're made to look as if they really are sitting across this table.
The $299,000 list price includes the video screens, the speakers, the microphones, and the table (cut to just the right arc to pull off the circle illusion).
TelePresence has to occupy a dedicated room with wall colors chosen from a palette determined by Cisco. A third-party inspector will judge whether the room's lighting and acoustics make the grade.
In other words, no fair showing off the good china in a trashy, undusted closet.
The system has to run with a Cisco PBX and Cisco CallManager software, as TelePresence is "very tightly integrated" with CallManager, Harrell says. The chances of expanding TelePresence to work with other PBXs is "not very likely," he adds.
The price even includes a network readiness assessment, where Cisco makes sure the rooms in question can be properly served with the necessary 12-Mbit/s bandwidth (possibly cut down to 10 Mbit/s with future processing power) and appropriate QOS to keep the video delivered and in sync with the audio.
The goal is to limit delays to 250 milliseconds. Cisco, running the system on its own network, has managed to meet that goal in every case but one -- the link between San Jose, Calif., and Bangalore, India, which clocks in at 260 milliseconds. (Cisco expects to have that time driven down soon.)
To Page 2