16:19 PM

Cisco teleprescence is key to driving network upgrades

Cisco is betting heavily on corporate video as the killer application that will drive network equipment sales. That's why video is the prime focus of its research and development efforts.

Today Cisco unveiled its next-generation videoconferencing system. For $300K Cisco's technicians will install three 65-inch Cisco high-definition flat panel displays and a camera system, plus tables and lighting to create "Teleprescence" - a life-like meeting experience. It all plugs into existing networks and there are no monthly service fees.

What you get for $300,000 is one end of a teleprescence portal that makes it seem as if everyone is seated at the same table. I popped into briefings last week at Cisco and met with journalists sitting in New York. The effect felt very real, in that it felt that I had met and spoken with someone.

Cisco is eating its own dog food and is installing 100 teleprescence rooms across its entire global operations. It expects to save $100 million in travel costs, about 9 percent of its travel budget. That should enable an ROI in just 9 months.

The technology works well, and it communicates a real meeting experience--but it wasn't easy getting there.

"We did a lot of human factors studies, from the shape of the table to how far away from the screen you should sit, plus camera angles and lighting," said Randy Harrell, director of product marketing for the Teleprescence line.

He said the system was two years in development and it involved a lot of complexity in order to reproduce the simple experience of sitting at conference table with colleagues or customers that could be thousands of miles away.

"The experience is so realistic at times that we've had people totally forget, and try to pass papers through the screen to each other," said Mr Harrell.

The teleprescence system comes out of Cisco's emerging markets group, headed by Martin De Beer, general manager of the group. Cisco is developing this technology in-house rather than acquiring it from outside. The emerging markets group at Cisco is very video -oriented, and for good reason. "We think video in the corporate space will spur network upgrades," said Mr. De Beer.

Cisco hopes it has developed a killer application that will spur corporations to renew their entire network. You only need a 10 Mbit line to connect two of Cisco's teleprescence rooms, which most companies already have. However, the combination of high definition video plus daily network traffic would require many companies to install new networks. "If your network is more than four or five years old you would probably need to upgrade it to use teleprescence," said De Beer.

My experience of the Cisco Teleprescence room was very positive; it is easy to forget there is a glass screen separating two sides of the same oval conference table.

The only problem was that I had to fight through two hours of traffic to get from San Francisco to Cisco's HQ in Silicon Valley. I would have been a heck of a lot more impressed if I could have experienced it from Cisco's San Francisco office.