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Cisco finalises Tandberg acquisition

The networking giant has entrusted its Telepresence Interoperability Protocol to the IMTC, meeting the European Commission's condition for the sale
Written by Richard Thurston, Contributor

Cisco has closed its purchase of Tandberg, after it named the organisation it will entrust with overseeing its key interoperability protocol for video conferencing.

The International Multimedia Telecommunications Consortium (IMTC) will have the responsibility of ensuring that the protocol — known as Telepresence Interoperability Protocol (TIP) — is made freely available to Cisco's competitors. Divesting TIP to a third-party organisation was a condition of the European Commission's approval for the Tandberg takeover.

Telepresence is a high-end video conferencing technology that is becoming increasingly adopted by businesses because of its high-definition images. TIP is essential for businesses who need to set up a high-quality telepresence call between Cisco and non-Cisco equipment.

"TIP is currently available under licence from Cisco, and will be transferred to the IMTC or another industry body to facilitate interoperability," Cisco said in a statement on Sunday. Though Cisco's announcement leaves scope for it to choose a different organisation, the IMTC launched on Tuesday a telepresence group that Cisco will co-chair, along with Polycom.

Most of Cisco's telepresence competitors have joined the IMTC, but HP, which has a competing system to Cisco, is not listed. The group will meet for the first time in Italy next week to discuss interoperability.

"While video conferencing has started from the ground up as an interoperable solution, telepresence hasn't," wrote the IMTC's Tsahi Levent-Levi in a blog post announcing the launch of the group. "Different products can't really communicate with each other, but now times are changing."

Levent-Levi said the IMTC would work on interoperability issues such as "dialling out calls, coupling media streams and being able to explain and understand the layout of remote room systems".

Cisco said any endpoint running protocols including H.323, Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) or Skinny Client Control Protocol (SCCP) will be able to interoperate with its equipment, namely the 1000 and 3000 models. The company said this included most equipment from Polycom, Tandberg, Sony, Huawei and Microsoft, among others.

As part of its Sunday announcement, Cisco said it would release the source code libraries for TIP by 1 July. These will be made available as a royalty-free open-source project under an Apache licence on Sourceforge, the largest hosted collection of open-source projects in the world, the company said. Competitors will then be free to use or modify the protocol. Nine video conferencing vendors have licensed TIP so far, though the Sourceforge page, created by the IMTC in March, carried scant details, and no files to download at the time of writing.

The release of TIP on to Sourceforge should help ensure that all the major manufacturers' telepresence equipment will be able to communicate with Cisco's telepresence equipment. However, the experience will not be perfect. Because of the difference in screen sizes, telepresence calls between Cisco and non-Cisco equipment will carry a black border at either the sides or top and bottom of the screen.

Now Cisco has been permitted to acquire Tandberg, it will set about integrating the two product portfolios, the company said. The combined telepresence businesses will be split into three areas: endpoints, infrastructure and cloud services. Cisco said no endpoints or infrastructure products would be dropped from the combined portfolio.

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