Cisco launches £160k conferencing kit

The networking vendor strides into high-quality, high-price video conferencing, the third stage in its communications evolution, but buyers may need deep pockets to experience it

Cisco launched the next stage in its unified communications range on Tuesday with a high-definition video conferencing system, but users will need a cool £160,000 to buy it.

It is the third stage in Cisco's communications evolution, which has moved on from simple IP telephony, through presence, and now into video applications.

The 12-user point-to-point system — which comprises three 65-inch plasma screens and a purpose-built conferencing room at each site — has been developed by Cisco's emerging technologies division over the last two years.

The networking giant has 26 patents for the technology which, unusually for Cisco, was developed entirely in-house.

"There is nothing we could acquire that could take us to this level," said Chris McLean, Cisco product manager for unified communications. "It's really been two years heads-down within Cisco."

The system, which is called TelePresence, is intended for board-level executives who cannot afford the time to travel, but who need a quality meeting environment. The product is intended to net Cisco $1bn (£534m) a year in five to seven years' time.

The renewed push into video conferencing takes Cisco head-to-head with conferencing specialist Polycom, and also with HP's Halo offering.

Peter Hall, senior analyst at Ovum, was impressed with TelePresence. He said, "Every aspect of the traditional videoconferencing experience has been addressed from scratch. This, and huge attention to detail, is the secret to the quality of this new solution. It's very easy to use, being no more complicated than making a phone call."

But Hall did raise an eyebrow at the price. "The key question is who will buy such a system?" he said, adding that the international finance sector would probably be the most likely candidate.

One City investment bank, whose name Cisco will not reveal, is known to have bought TelePresence. Between 50 and 60 companies have participated in trials of the technology.

Critically, TelePresence works best over a Cisco-based infrastructure, the company said. Customers must buy Cisco Call Manager and ideally Cisco phones to ensure full functionality, although Cisco switches are not required.

However, customers also need to ensure their network is resilient enough to carry the required amount of traffic, which, depending on the type of compression used, could be as much as 12Mbps. Cisco has had to upgrade its own UK network in order to use the product.

Cisco is also offering a smaller, four-user version for $79,000. It is working on extending TelePresence to include a four-site multipoint version next year.

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