Cisco brings technology face to face

Cisco Systems Inc. announced a new line of products on Wednesday for its Internet Protocol (IP) communications system that the company said will make videoconferencing more affordable, better quality and above all, easier to use.

At the heart of Cisco’s announcement is the introduction of its new Cisco IP private branch exchange (PBX) called the Cisco CallManager 4.0. The 4.0 features a new desktop solution called Cisco Video Telephony (VT) Advantage 1.0, which allows users to take part in real-time person-to-person video sessions, as easily as a traditional voice call.

According to Cisco, companies using IP-enabled phones can use the VT Advantage with CallManager 4.0 to create an instant face-to-face video call while maintaining access to the soft keys on their Cisco IP phones including hold, transfer and conference for the video-enabled phone call.

Traditionally videoconferencing has been given a bad reputation because of its high expense, poor quality and the fact that it is difficult to operate for IT managers, said Christian Bazinet, manager of service providers marketing at Cisco Systems Canada Co. in Toronto.

Bazinet said the reasons Cisco’s VT Advantage will work where video conferencing hasn’t are in the details. He said to make a video-enabled phone call with Cisco’s technology is as easy as making a voice call because the video flows on top of the company’s IP layer — a pre-requisite investment for a company wanting to implement the video solution.

Jeff Mossman, consulting systems engineer at Cisco Systems Canada said that a lot of the components and technology needed for videoconferencing is collecting dust in many company boardrooms. When speaking with users, Mossman said he discovered that workers within an organization may know they have access to videoconferencing equipment but they have no idea how to use it and often go to the IT manager to even turn the system on.

Mossman said that with VT Advantage, Cisco is trying to change the way video can be used within the enterprise.

The VT Advantage is interoperable with various new and existing desktop and room-based videoconferencing systems, according to Cisco. The solution works by integrating a Cisco IP phone and a PC along with the VT Advantage application software and a Cisco universal serial bus (USB) camera.

For larger or room-based videoconferences, Cisco is also offering the VT Advantage with new personal and conference room video products from video systems and service provider, Tandberg.

Often times participants in a traditional voice conference call would tend to become bored or impatient after a certain amount of time passes, Bazinet noted, “but if you are able to see each other it makes for a more effective meeting.”

Albert Daoust, director of special projects and networking at Evans Research Corp. in Toronto agrees with Cisco in its belief that the traditional videoconferencing market is dead, adding that when it comes to the company’s new VT Advantage, Cisco “has got the right hunch.”

Daoust said that if Cisco is successful with this product it might be because the company’s resellers are hungry for a new “sexy” product to show clients.

“Techies are just like everyone else. They love sexy little gadgets, they are gadget freaks. And for the first time [resellers] have a gadget to walk in with, so that’s good,” Daoust said.

Also working in Cisco’s favour, according to Daoust, is the fact that since the introduction of IP telephony, there hasn’t been anything new or better for the customer in terms of technology that they haven’t seen before.

“We’ve got superior technology, we’ve got some savings in the operational costs, but we haven’t had one new feature or benefit yet that the end-user can experience,” Daoust said.

“Now, bingo, we can do the videoconferencing. This is the first time ever the IP telephony people have said, ‘We have a better end-user feature. We not only have a better one, we’ve got one you haven’t seen before. So, this is very good if it works.”

The Cisco CallManager 4.0 software with a Cisco Media Convergence Server starts at US$5,995. The Cisco VT Advantage 1.0 is US$190 per user including the USB camera and is expected to begin shipping in April.

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