Cisco extends Telepresence to smaller businesses

Five years after introducing its high-end, proprietary, $300,000-plus Telepresence video suite, Cisco Systems Inc. says extending the videoconferencing experience to any end point is key to driving the adoption of collaborative technology.

The company made a number of announcements on Tuesday, including a new desktop end point, an end point designed for the health care vertical, a hosted, subscription-based solution for SMBs and a mobile client.

Cisco Telepresence Callway is a cloud-based subscription offering for small and medium businesses for whom on-premise Telepresence suites are too complex and expensive, said Gina Clark, vice-president and general manager of Cisco’s Telepresence cloud business group. While on-premise Telepresence solutions might suit a large enterprise, many of its partners will be SMBs, Clark said.

Callway can be used with Cisco’s smaller-scale personal and multi-purpose endpoints. Singlewire Software, a developer of mass notification software, uses a C-40 codec in one room and has an EX60 for overflow. In the field, salespeople use a Movi laptop client for videoconferencing.

The 43-person shop uses the videoconferencing rooms 18 to 20 times a day, according to Pat Scheckel, vice-president of business development. “It’s really helped our sales,” Schckel said. “We could only take a subset of our portfolio on the road.”

Singlewire chief technology officer Jerry Steinhauer said the company wanted a “hands-off” videoconferencing solution. “We’re a capable IT shop, but there aren’t very many of us,” he said.

Hands-off is what he got. “It took longer for us to unpack the end point than to register with Callway,” Steinhauer said.

Cisco also announced a mobile client called Jabber, which allows Callway users to invite others to download a client and use any video-enabled device, for example, a laptop with videocamera, to participate in Callway videoconferencing.

The Callway service will cost from $99 to $149 a month in the U.S. Canadian pricing and availability weren’t announced, but it should follow closely on the heels of U.S. availability early next year.

Cisco also announced the MX300, a room-based client the company says can be set up in as little as 15 minutes, and the VX Clinical Assitant, a purpose-built videoconferencing cart for health care applications.

OJ Winge, senior vice-president and general manager of Cisco’s Telepresence technology group, acknowledged the company was criticized for the proprietary nature of its original Telepresence offerings, but the company had to “push innovation quite hard (and in the process) broke interoperability.” The company has since embraced open standards, allowing end points from a variety of manufacturers as well as standards-based soft clients into the Telepresence mix.

But while Winge sets the goal of “making Telepresence as natural as a phone call,” one analyst says the competition isn’t coming from other videoconferencing technology providers.

“I think they’re fighting a North American trend away from phone calls,” said Michelle Warren, principal with MW Research. Instant messaging and e-mail are preferred modes of communication for most business users.

But extending Telepresence to lower-end end points makes sense, and was necessary to increase videoconferencing’s footprint, Warren said.

“It made sense when they introduced it that it would be high-end,” she said, but the high cost of entry meant “it was bound to hit a wall.”

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Dave Webb
Dave Webb
Dave Webb is a freelance editor and writer. A veteran journalist of more than 20 years' experience (15 of them in technology), he has held senior editorial positions with a number of technology publications. He was honoured with an Andersen Consulting Award for Excellence in Business Journalism in 2000, and several Canadian Online Publishing Awards as part of the ComputerWorld Canada team.

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