Unified Communications

Cisco introduces 15 minute video conferencing system

by David F Carr, InformationWeek USA, June 15, 2011

Facing growing competition from Polycom, Vidyo, and others, Cisco introduces a low-cost unit designed to be set up and running in 15 minutes

Seeking to promote the goal of "telepresence everywhere," Cisco on Tuesday introduced a simplified videoconferencing unit it claims can be up and running in 15 minutes, along with other improvements for scalability and interoperability.

The Cisco TelePresence product line faces intensifying competition from Polycom and others, including relative newcomers like Vidyo.

Best known for its high-end, immersive systems that are meant to be placed in custom rooms with good lighting and multiple displays, Cisco has broadened its telepresence brand to encompass high-definition video on desktops and smaller units as well. The new Cisco TelePresence MX 200 is designed for use in offices and general-purpose conference rooms.

"It will fit into rooms that aren't entirely retrofitted," Thomas Wyatt, Cisco's vice president of TelePresence Infrastructure, said in an interview. Further, the product is designed for easy assembly and automatic provisioning on the network "so you can be making your first call in 15 minutes, and it does not require an AV or IT technician to get it up and running," Wyatt said.

The MX 200 will be available in July and has a list price of USD 21,600. With volume discounts, it could wind up being available for about half that amount, Wyatt said.

Additionally, Cisco is introducing a software upgrade across its product line designed to facilitate videoconferences with competitors' products without reliance on a multipoint control unit (MCU). In videoconferences, MCUs are network devices used to control multiparty calls, and they also provide transcoding between video standards. An MCU will still be necessary for calls involving three or more endpoints, but in the simpler case of a point-to-point call Cisco is enabling its endpoints to handle the transcoding themselves.

Wyatt said this reduces the demand on "very expensive MCU ports," allowing organizations to support more videoconferences on a more regular basis. It has also been one of the most common requests from Cisco customers, he said. "This is a big step toward making video the next voice."

In another effort to boost telepresence scalability, Cisco will be introducing an infrastructure product called the Cisco TelePresence Conductor in the second half of 2011. This is a system for managing reservations across a pool of MCU resources. Cisco said the Conductor will intelligently assign call requests to the most appropriate MCU as needed and also provides a facility for assigning employees virtual meeting room numbers that can be used to quickly initiate a telepresence session.

Wyatt said the Conductor also improves scalability "from three participants to thousands" because it can coordinate multiple MCUs to support a single telepresence session, where traditionally these sessions were limited to the capacity of a single MCU.
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