Is Cisco's Telepresence a Bandwidth Hog?

Cisco Systems Inc. announced this week two video conferencing products that will cater to very small meetings and very big ones and might have trouble finding new audiences with either.

The Cisco TelePresence System 500 is a smaller telepresence system that is geared toward smaller meetings and allowing remote workers to connect to larger telemeetings.

"It's a new category of telepresence: personal presence," said Charles Stucki, vice-president and general manager of the Cisco TelePresence System business unit.

It includes a 37-inch display, camera, a microphone array, and specially-designed lighting. It continues the trademark TelePresence technology that allows users to appear life-size in other TelePresence meetings rooms. The actual machine--which can be placed on a desk, wall-mounted, or put on a pedestal--can also double as a second monitor. It is priced at $33,900 US.

Rich Costello, research director with Gartner Research, said that this announcement is in line with another recent one--that of HP and its own smallish telepresence system (although theirs is geared toward two to four users, instead of one). The low price-point would be the selling point for customers, according to Costello.

However, the novelty of telepresence means that it's not exactly going to catch on like gangbusters among new customers, or the small to mid-sized business market, said Costello. "I see it as more of an add-on for existing customers of the larger solutions. Companies that use telepresence are usually looking for a more scaleable solution. This could be used by managers in a remote office, or another location, from a bigger company," he said.

And, even at the discounted price, said Frost & Sullivan analyst Ronald Gruia, the 500 model is still rather pricey for anyone not packing a corporation-size bank account. "It's not even targeted at the SMB market--just the medium-sized businesses," he said.

The Cisco TelePresence System 3200 is the next step from Cisco's TelePresence System 3000. The system can host triple the amount of the 3000 model, with up to 12 to 18 participants and a second row of seating for larger venues. The new 3200 iteration includes new camera lenses, microphones for back-row participants, and a new codec that supports 30fps data-sharing. This model will set you back US $340,000.

This will place it squarely in the realm of loaded enterprises (such as Canadian headquarters or large multinational offices) with plenty of cash and plenty of remote executives who must meet frequently, according to IDC Canada vice-president of communications and segments research Tony Olvet. "It's an extremely narrow target of clients," he said.

Both offer multipoint call functionality, which cuts down on echoing, and wideband audio so there is no delay. The sets can also act as projectors, and also have scheduling capability through Outlook and Lotus Notes. Stucki also touts the products' ease of use, something he said wasn't there in telepresence products before: "You just touch it and go." This cuts down on support costs, he said.

Olvet and Costello agreed, however, that service costs could indeed be high, however, once you factor in the large chunks of pricey bandwidth being chewed up by the TelePresence products and meetings. "You need a pretty robust network to transmit that quality level. It depends on how you process your services, but there could be serious utilization charges," Olvet said.

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