AT&T Preps Telepresence Service
The news is a boost for Cisco as it battles with rivals such as HP Inc. (NYSE: HPQ), Nortel Networks Ltd. , Polycom Inc. (Nasdaq: PLCM), Tandberg ASA (OSE: TAA), Telanetix Inc. , and Teliris Ltd. for bragging rights in the increasingly hot advanced multimedia conferencing system market. (See Nortel, Tandberg Team on Telepresence, Telanetix Touts Telepresence on the Cheap, Tandberg Telepresence, Teliris Trash-Talks TelePresence, Cisco, Nortel Tee Off in Telepresence, and HP, Tandberg Team.)
To accompany the news of AT&T's impending service, Cisco announced it has shipped more than 500 telepresence units to its 100-plus corporate customers launching the technology in October 2006. (See Cisco Touts Telepresence Sales and Cisco Dials Up Videoconferencing.)
Telepresence systems, which make participants feel as if they are in the same room as they chat and share documents, are attracting interest as enterprise users look for ways to enhance communications within their companies and with customers and partners -- and, of course, reduce international travel. (See Defining Telepresence and Cisco's Telepresence.)
Videoconferencing systems have promised such benefits for years but have not been adopted as day-to-day business tools by a critical mass of corporate users.
Vendors hope the "immersive" experience of telepresence will finally deliver against enterprise needs. AT&T noted the potential of Cisco's technology when it announced its global expansion plans earlier this year. (See AT&T's $1B Global Capex Pledge, Survey: Enterprise Ethernet Services Are Hot, and Is Telepresence Worth the Money?)
It's not the first carrier to hook into Cisco's offering, though: Other carriers offering or developing telepresence services or support to their corporate customers include BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA), Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S), and Telia Company . (See BT Gets Certification, Cisco Certifies Sprint, and Teliasonera Picks Cisco.)
AT&T's managed service includes the installation of AT&T-owned telepresence equipment (one- or three-screen systems); monitoring and management of the application; on-site maintenance and remote help desk services; and network provisioning using its IP VPN service.
The carrier has experience with the Cisco system, as it uses telepresence for its own internal conferencing needs. It has 11 telepresence sites set up in its U.S. offices, with plans to add to that network internationally this year.
No pricing or proposed contract term details are available yet from AT&T. Cisco's direct corporate customers are believed to pay around $300,000 for each telepresence location.
AT&T will highlight the Cisco system's ability to connect multiple companies in different locations when it launches later this year in North America (U.S. and Canada), Latin America (Argentina, Brazil), Europe (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the U.K.), and Asia/Pacific (Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan). (See Cisco Improves Telepresence.)
AT&T claims this inter-company capability is unique to Cisco's TelePresence system, but Ovum Ltd. analysts Jan Dawson and Lucy Hipperson, in a research note published this morning, note that both HP and Teliris also offer such capabilities, though on "a closed network solely used for telepresence services. AT&T is providing this solution as the first inter-company solution which allows secure interoperability for customers using AT&T's MPLS network. BT and Cisco have previously announced this capability, but as yet BT has not commercially launched anything."
Dawson and Hipperson add that while AT&T won't be the first carrier to market with an offer based on Cisco's TelePresence system, "it is the first with an inter-company solution, making this another example of AT&T coming to the market later than others but often with a better product." They acknowledge, though, that it's too early to say just how popular such inter-company services might be.
AT&T will use MPLS's class of service capabilities to prioritize telepresence traffic. But the Ovum analysts say many customers will end up upgrading MPLS networks for the technology, since it chews up 5 Mbit/s of bandwidth per room.
AT&T will undoubtedly encounter teething problems with such a new service, something that Cisco can attest to following a telepresence outage during its C-Scape annual analyst conference in San Jose last December. (See Cisco Fumble II.)
— Ray Le Maistre, International News Editor, Light Reading