Cisco Brings Telepresence Home
Details of the product are still under wraps, but in talking with media and analysts after a press conference here, Cisco officials said home telepresence takes just a 1.5-Mbit/s symmetrical connection. "We're very good at compression," Ken Wirt, vice president of consumer marketing, told Light Reading.
The idea, then, will be for a household to use the broadband connection and high-definition TVs that are already in place.
Another tidbit, from chief strategy officer Ned Hooper (who also runs Cisco's consumer business), is that home telepresence will require a standalone box, at least at first. In other words, it's not yet integrated into a set-top box.
As for where the technology came from, Hooper said it's an extention of the "enterprise telepresence path."
Field trials of the home telepresence are due to start this spring with Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) and its FiOS customers, and later in the year with Orange (NYSE: FTE).
The Verizon inclusion is interesting, considering AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) was the first service provider to offer Cisco's TelePresence product for enterprises. Wirt wouldn't comment much on that, but insisted that too much shouldn't be read into it. "All we've said is that these guys are early partners. That doesn't mean they're the only ones," he said.
Of course, Cisco couldn't talk about home telepresence without giving a demo. Standing in a fake living room adorned with a modestly sized Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (Korea: SEC) HDTV, Wirt and Cisco CEO John Chambers started off with the obvious application -- a home phone call. For added amusement, the call was with Chambers's wife in San Jose, Calif. (She was a good sport but seemed less than charmed when Chambers signed off with "Nice legs.")
But Cisco sees business applications sprouting from this as well. Wirt staged a call to two doctors at Cisco's onsite healthcare facility in San Jose. (The call was scripted, but the doctors were real, and they really do hold video appointments with Cisco employees in Research Triangle Park, N.C., according to Wirt.)
The Cisco team also demonstrated a home-business application, where a math tutor was available for parents to interview on telepresence, with lessons purchasable through the TV screen.
Given the increasing acceptance of videoconferencing in corporate circles, the prospect of a home system has become less far-fetched over the past couple of years.
"We will see business models evolve at the show and in the coming weeks. If I'd have said this to you a year ago, you'd have said, 'Yeah, right,' " said Rick Doherty, principal analyst with The Envisioneering Group . "Chambers may not get all the share he wants out of it, but business models are coming."
Home telepresence was one of several announcements Cisco made today at CES, along with word that it's providing the video network for NBC's coverage of the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. (That includes mobile and Internet-based delivery as well as TV. Expect to see lots of Flip cameras in the hands of athletes, too.) Cisco also announced some new customers for its Eos Website-building platform. (See Cisco Spews News at CES.)
— Craig Matsumoto, West Coast Editor, Light Reading