Cisco Expands Its Telepresence Offerings

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Cisco Systems is releasing a protocol designed to improve interoperability with other telepresence systems, as well as applications to expand its own TelePresence technology

Cisco Systems is aiming to expand the reach of telepresence capabilities, releasing an interoperability protocol and pushing its own TelePresence product beyond virtual meeting rooms.

The networking giant on 26 January also unveiled two new TelePresence endpoints that are designed for easier installation and greater energy efficiency.

The moves are part of a larger strategy by Cisco to bring the benefits of telepresence technology to a wider audience, Erica Schroeder, director of marketing for Cisco’s TelePresence business unit, said in an interview.

“Our goal is for everyone everywhere to have access to the immersive experience,” Schroeder said.

Cisco is releasing TIP (Telepresence Interoperability Protocol) into the public domain to enable greater interoperability between multiscreen telepresence systems from disparate vendors. The goal is to help businesses improve communications not only among their own workers, but with customers and partners as well.

“This will give Cisco and other vendors the ability to do standards-based telepresence interoperability,” Schroeder said.

Cisco is licensing TIP to other telepresence and video conferencing vendors royalty-free, and expects this to be the first step to creating an open standard for the technology. Already LifeSize Communications, Tandberg and Radvision have signed licensing agreements for the protocol, according to Cisco officials.

The vendor already offers some interoperability through its support of H.323, which enables its TelePresence technology to work with other standard and high-definition video conferencing systems and other collaboration applications. In addition, Cisco supports HD video conferencing interoperability solutions through its MXE 5600 (Media Experience Engine) and Cisco Unified Videoconferencing.

Cisco is in the process of buying Tandberg for $3.4 billion (£2.1bn), while Logitech is acquiring LifeSize for $405 million (£250m), all part of what is becoming an increasingly competitive telepresence and video collaboration space. Other vendors are partnering as they look to compete with Cisco in the video collaboration space. Video conferencing vendors in January announced separate alliances with Siemens Enterprise Communications Group and Juniper Networks. That competition will only increase as business demand for video collaboration technology grows.

“There has been in the last two years an unprecedented awareness and pent-up demand for video among the general populace,” Roopam Jain, an analyst with Frost & Sullivan, said in an email. “This is not just emerging from a viral increase in consumer use of video (Skype, YouTube …) but also from the true understanding of benefits related to video adoption in the enterprise [such as] travel cost savings and higher productivity. The growing ease of use and better user experience of the current generation of products has been a significant contributor, too.”

Cisco – particularly as it acquires Tandberg – has the pole position in the video collaboration space, Jain said, with offerings from the desktop to the TelePresence portfolio for enterprises. The company also can integrate video with other communications applications, such as WebEx, she said.

“Cisco’s competition, to build up some muscle, is focusing on partnering with vendors,” Jain said, pointing to the Polycom-Siemens alliance. “We expect to see interesting partnership opportunities emerge for Polycom as it strengthens its relationship with Siemens, Avaya and IBM.”

Cisco also is moving the TelePresence experience outside the virtual meeting room with new applications aimed at particular venues.

“With these applications, we want to give the ability to experience face-to-face communications in lots of different ways,” Schroeder said. “All of these apps are customer-driven.”

For example, Cisco is bringing its TelePresence technology into the educational arena, enabling face-to-face remote experiences in classrooms and lecture halls as well as corporate training rooms. TelePresence currently is used in administrative roles in schools, “but [school officials have] really been pushing to apply this technology to teaching,” she said.

TelePresence Active Collaboration Room brings together the immersive technology with other collaborative applications such as Cisco’s WebEx. Through the company’s TelePresence Remote Demonstration Centre, Cisco aims to give customers a way to demonstrate new products without having to travel to different sites.

Cisco also offers an in-person concierge service through its TelePresence Live Desk, and live Webcasting or recording services through the TelePresence Streaming Service.

Schroeder said Cisco will be adding new applications in the future.

Cisco also is rolling out the TelePresence System 3010 and 3210, which Schroeder said will offer greater energy efficiency and be easier to deploy. Both endpoints offer in-room HD LCDs that enable users to collaborate on content across the TelePresence meeting from a laptop or an integrated document camera.

The new systems reduce power consumption by 25 percent, and more of the endpoints are preassembled, making them easier to install. The systems also offer improved lighting and increased bandwidth efficiency, Schroeder said.

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