BT Lines Up Telepresence Service

BT Group plc (NYSE: BT; London: BTA) has joined AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) as a lead carrier flag-waver for Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO)'s telepresence conferencing capabilities by announcing it will launch global inter-company services based on Cisco's platform from September. (See BT Demos Telepresence, and AT&T Preps Telepresence Service.)

BT has long been a supporter of Cisco's virtual meeting technology, having gained its Cisco Certified TelePresence Connection certification in June 2007, just nine months after the IP giant unveiled its system. (See BT Gets Certification and Cisco Dials Up Videoconferencing.)

Now the British carrier is ready to take Cisco's system to market as part of its Unified Communications video offering for enterprise customers. That package includes the Cisco system plus installation and management services.

What's key to BT's (and AT&T's) offer, though, is the inter-company conferencing capability -- something that Cisco believes is unique in the broader telepresence services market, where companies such as HP Inc. (NYSE: HPQ), Nortel Networks Ltd. , Polycom Inc. (Nasdaq: PLCM), Tandberg ASA (OSE: TAA), Telanetix Inc. , and Teliris Ltd. are all pitching an immersive, multimedia conferencing system. (See Nortel, Tandberg Team on Telepresence, Telanetix Touts Telepresence on the Cheap, Teliris Trash-Talks TelePresence, Cisco, Nortel Tee Off in Telepresence, and HP, Tandberg Team.)

Telepresence systems make participants feel as if they are in the same room as they chat and share documents: Cisco has adopted the generic industry term as the name for its particular product.

So why is the inter-company issue so important?

Because, so far, the 500 or so Cisco TelePresence systems installed in company offices have only been able to hook up with other telepresence systems within the same organization across that company's VPN: Indeed, the majority of that installed base is not even capable of inter-company sessions. (See Cisco Touts Telepresence Sales.)

That limits the business usefulness of what is, at $300,000 per room, a significant investment for any company.

Enabling the systems to communicate with Cisco TelePresence installations housed by other companies increases their potential business worth substantially, as it would allow companies to conduct TelePresence sessions with partners, suppliers and customers, as well as internal, intra-company virtual meetings.

AT&T and BT are the first carriers to announce inter-company telepresence, which Cisco believes is a key development in driving the uptake of the technology. (See Cisco Improves Telepresence.)

Any such uptake would benefit both the vendor (for obvious sales and market share reasons) and the carriers, which see Cisco's technology as a way to sell managed services, such as installation, maintenance, support, and VPN connectivity or upgrades.

Other vendors such as Teliris offer inter-company capabilities, but on a closed, telepresence-only dedicated network. Cisco’s technology, meanwhile, can set up sessions across any carrier network, though only as long as it meets a certain set of requirements. (See Tata Does Telepresence and Cisco Certifies Sprint.)

— Raymond McConville, Reporter, Light Reading

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