Cisco Dials Up Videoconferencing

Who hates videoconferencing? Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) hates 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.)

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litewate 12/5/2012 | 3:10:13 PM
re: Cisco Dials Up Videoconferencing I have seen the system live and in person. It reminded me of a cable TV news set. In it's present form, I don't ever see anyone below executive management types having ready access to the system. It will remain far to costly for the common person.
fredfrenzy 12/5/2012 | 3:37:01 AM
re: Cisco Dials Up Videoconferencing Hmmm looks like the cloned Halo, the HP/Dreamworks service....except that HP provides the network as well....

Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 3:37:01 AM
re: Cisco Dials Up Videoconferencing Raise your hand if you don't care about videoconferencing or videophones, no matter how good the tech gets.

That's one market barrier that's not going away for a while, I would think. I can see how a few industries might be interested in this, though (design and advertising come to mind).

In the end, maybe TelePresence's biggest contribution could be to get videoconferencing a better reputation as something "normal" ... with the real video boom coming years down the line. By then, some more high-end (and lower price) competitors should spring up.
goniners 12/5/2012 | 3:34:39 AM
re: Cisco Dials Up Videoconferencing Is Teleprensence positioned for videoconferencing
within a company or between companies? I have not
seen any references to interoperability with
Cisco's SBC offerings which presumably would
be required for inter-company videoconferencing.
goniners 12/5/2012 | 3:34:39 AM
re: Cisco Dials Up Videoconferencing Is Teleprensence positioned for videoconferencing
within a company or between companies? I have
seen any references to interoperability with
Cisco's SBC offerings which presumably would
be required for inter-company videoconferencing.
Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 3:34:38 AM
re: Cisco Dials Up Videoconferencing It's for either one, but realistically, it's going to be inTRA-company at first. Because you need a Telepresence link on both sides to make this really work.

If you happen to know another company that's installed one, great. You've got an intercompany system. But right now, most customers have to be looking at internal use only, I'd think.

Cisco will eventually have to interoperate with other videoconferencing systems, but they'll want to shop the full-blown Telepresence for a while first.
alchemy 12/5/2012 | 3:34:37 AM
re: Cisco Dials Up Videoconferencing In our new oursourced universe, I see it as a way to turn uninteligable voice conference calls to Bangalore into uninteligable videoconference calls to Bangalore.

At least we'll all be able to watch our soap operas in high def on those conference room plasma screens so it's not a total loss.
Pete Baldwin 12/5/2012 | 3:34:36 AM
re: Cisco Dials Up Videoconferencing ha! Great points.

One application that came to mind when I saw the demo was games. It used to be that you used the company network and servers to play arcade games after hours. Now you'll (with future upgrades to come) use the TelePresence room to hook up with friends across the company and all go on to World of Warcraft in HDTV. You could use one screen for the game and the other 2 to talk with your buddies. Or (eek) play 3 characters at once.

I'm just joking, but I doubt I'm the only one thinking about it.
RFC 2547 12/5/2012 | 3:34:22 AM
re: Cisco Dials Up Videoconferencing Former Cisco user, but something was missing. We
found www.lifesize.com and it made believers out of all of us.
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