Cisco Rolls Out TP
Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), one of telepresence’s biggest cheerleaders, is hard at work trying to make this happen. But accomplishing that will require a lot more than just selling a lot of systems. Achieving widespread intercompany capabilities -- the ability to conduct a telepresence meeting between two different firms -- is just as, if not more, important.
Cisco has managed to do this with two big carriers, AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA). (See AT&T Preps Telepresence Service and BT Lines Up Telepresence Service.) But it took a lot of work.
“To be able to go from one IP network to another is not a simple undertaking,” says Erica Schroeder, Cisco’s director of marketing for telepresence. “We’re working with the carriers to build the same infrastructure to connect video calls, [which] is essentially the same as the one we use to connect voice calls.”
The complication is that unlike most voice calls, telepresence calls travel over a company’s virtual private network (VPN). The nature of a VPN, of course, is that it does not intertwine with or talk to other companies' VPNs, making intercompany telepresence calls tricky.
“In order to tie these two together, there’s some technology we have to put in place like call control and session border controllers,” says James Peters, Cisco’s director of product management and network services for telepresence. “This functionality needs to be built into the MPLS VPN networks in order to have the single service provider allow company A to call company B.”
But progress like this with major carriers is only the start. The next step is intercarrier communication.
While AT&T and BT have achieved intercompany capability, companies running telepresence on AT&T’s network cannot talk to companies running telepresence on BT’s. It requires creating a peering point between the two carrier networks, and it's more a business hurdle than a technical one.
“Each carrier wants to sell MPLS VPNs globally to multinational corporations," says Peters. And since the carrier would prefer to be the one global network connecting all the telepresence systems, it is not as willing to peer with another network as Cisco would like. “If they won’t peer or interconnect, we’re going to find a way to bridge that gap, because if we don’t, we’re not going to get the network effects of Metcalfe’s law,” Peters says. (Metcalfe's Law says a network becomes more valuable if it has more endpoints.)
That's a problem for later, Peters adds. For now, Cisco is concentrating on getting intercompany capabilities into carriers' networks.
As intercompany and intercarrier capabilities become more widespread, and as more telepresence units get deployed, Cisco says the cost of the service will come down from the lofty $300,000 it charges for a single three-screen room. (See Cisco's Telepresence.) “Like any technology, the prices will come down as the volume increases,” says Schroeder.
— Raymond McConville, Reporter, Light Reading