Cisco appeals Microsoft-Skype deal over lock-in fears

The videoconferencing firm says Microsoft's plans to integrate Skype with its Lync Enterprise Communications Platform could 'lock in businesses' to a closed platform
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

Cisco has appealed against the European Commission's approval of Microsoft's Skype takeover, saying it should have come with a demand that Microsoft and Skype do not lock their customers into a closed platform.

The $8.5bn (£5.2bn) deal got the Commission's unconditional approval in October, and the merger was formalised just days later. However, Cisco said on Wednesday that open standards should have been a condition of the Commission's regulatory go-ahead.

"Cisco does not oppose the merger, but believes the European Commission should have placed conditions that would ensure greater standards-based interoperability, to avoid any one company from being able to seek to control the future of video communications," Cisco TelePresence chief Marthin De Beer said in a blog post.

The VoIP provider Messagenet has joined Cisco in making its appeal to the General Court of the European Union, De Beer said.

De Beer highlighted Microsoft's plan to integrate Skype with its Lync Enterprise Communications Platform, and suggested that this "could lock in businesses who want to reach Skype's 700 million account holders to a Microsoft-only platform".

"Imagine how difficult it would be if you were limited to calling people who only use the same carrier, or if your phone could only call certain brands and not others. Cisco wants to avoid this future for video communications," he explained.

Open standards push

Cisco is the biggest player in the corporate videoconferencing market with its TelePresence line of services and high-end equipment. The company began an open-standards push two years ago, when it released the TelePresence Interoperability Protocol (TIP) so that businesses could make video calls with TelePresence kit on one side and equipment from a rival on the other.

When vendors implement their own protocols and selectively interoperate, they push the burden of interoperability to the customer.
– Marthin De Beer

When Cisco bought Tandberg in April 2010, the International Multimedia Telecommunications Consortium (IMTC) took over the protocol's licensing. Since then, the list of companies participating in the open-standards scheme has grown to include HP, Polycom, Vidyo, Informata, Lifesize, Radvision and AT&T.

However, that list does not include Microsoft or its new subsidiary, Skype. De Beer said on Wednesday that the videoconferencing industry should "rally around open standards... defined by non-partisan governing bodies".

"When vendors implement their own protocols and selectively interoperate, they push the burden of interoperability to the customer," De Beer said. "We respectfully request that the General Court act on our concerns and for the European Commission to ensure the proper protections are put in place to encourage innovation and a competitive marketplace."

According to ZDNet UK sister site ZDNet.com, Microsoft has retorted by saying the Commission's pre-approval investigation had been "thorough", and had included Cisco's participation.

"We're confident the Commission's decision will stand up on appeal," Microsoft said.

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