Cisco, Polycom think smaller in telepresence

Cisco and Polycom each are unveiling smaller video systems and more interoperability

Cisco Systems and Polycom both will highlight downsized telepresence systems at the InfoComm trade show this week, along with updated software designed for easier management of videoconferencing.

Large, multi-screen telepresence rooms made a splash when they came out in the middle of the past decade, but the market for such systems is limited and not growing quickly, according to some vendors and analysts. A broader opportunity for videoconferencing lies in small and branch offices and in mobile devices such as tablets, they said.

"Fundamentally, this market is going to shift downward," said Andrew Davis, an analyst at Wainhouse Research. After strong growth in the early years of high-definition systems, the videoconferencing equipment market only grew 6 percent in units and 7.5 percent in revenue annually between 2008 and 2010, he said.

On Tuesday at InfoComm in Orlando, the two big-name telepresence rivals reached out to smaller sites and offered them less expensive products.

Cisco was set to introduce the MX200 telepresence endpoint, an all-in-one system designed for small groups and private offices. The MX200 has high-definition 1080p resolution just like Cisco's bigger telepresence platforms, though it lacks some features of room systems, such as directional sound, said Thomas Wyatt, vice president and general manager of Cisco's TelePresence Infrastructure business.

Staff at a remote location can set up the MX200 and start holding meetings on it within as little as 15 minutes, without a technical specialist, according to Cisco. The unit will go on sale worldwide next month at a list price of US$21,600, with volume and other discounts available.

Polycom is also using InfoComm to unveil a smaller telepresence system, the OTX 100. Unlike Cisco's MX200, it comes with an integrated table with built-in monitors for content sharing. The company described the OTX 100 as an expansion of its OTX line, offering immersive telepresence experience in a smaller package, with a lower price. The new system also uses half the bandwidth required by competing products, the company claimed in a news release. It will go on sale in October, starting at $99,999. A version without the integrated table and monitors, the OTX 100 Compact, will cost $79,999.

Cisco is also introducing Cisco TelePresence Conductor, a server to essentially virtualize all the Cisco telepresence resources in an enterprise. The Conductor can keep track of as many as 30 MCUs (multipoint control units), the back-end devices for linking multiple sites. For a videoconferencing endpoint anywhere in the organization, the Conductor can find capacity for a meeting session anywhere it may be available, Wyatt said. This allows organizations to conserve infrastructure and provides more flexibility in setting up meetings, he said. TelePresence Conductor will be generally available late this year at a price that will be disclosed nearer its release date.

One other advancement coming from Cisco is software for native point-to-point interoperability among videoconferencing endpoints that use some common standards. In the past, point-to-point meetings between telepresence systems from Cisco and from Tandberg, the video vendor it acquired last year, had to use multipoint equipment for translation even though there were only two endpoints participating.

Now users can carry out a peer-to-peer meeting between the Cisco and Tandberg endpoints without going through the MCU, leaving more MCU ports free and saving money on that hardware, he said. Any other vendor's endpoints that use H.264, SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) or Cisco's TIP (Telepresence Interoperability Protocol) also can join in this fashion, Wyatt said. The software upgrade for this capability will be available in August, free to Cisco customers with service agreements.

Polycom is introducing a new version of its UC Intelligent Core software, which is designed to orchestrate telepresence across a wide range of devices. The new software can scale up to connect as many as 75,000 stationary and mobile devices at once, the company said. It can bring in a variety of systems that use standard protocols such as SIP, TIP and H.323, with guaranteed class of service, according to Polycom. The software will be available in the third quarter.

Stephen Lawson covers mobile, storage and networking technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Stephen on Twitter at @sdlawsonmedia. Stephen's e-mail address is stephen_lawson@idg.com

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