Cisco struggle to move TelePresence down market prompts Tandberg buyout

By , Network World |  Business, Cisco, tandberg

Cisco's $3 billion bid this week for Tandberg is a gamble that video conferencing can take off in the small/medium business and consumer markets, which to date haven't embraced Cisco's TelePresence systems.

With the deal, Cisco would catapult itself from the leader in telepresence – which represents just 1% of the video conferencing units sold – to the clear leader in all of video conferencing, says Ira Weinstein, an analyst with Wainhouse Research.

"The breadth of what they can deliver has been massively expanded," he says.

Tandberg, based in Norway, makes video conferencing systems for desktops and personal computers, as well as higher-end units, and owned 40% of the $2 billion worldwide market in Q2. Cisco TelePresence systems, meanwhile are predominantly for conference rooms and can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, though lower end versions have been introduced as well. 

Cisco has pegged telepresence as one of its Advanced Technologies, defined as those technologies with the potential to develop into a $1 billion-a-year business. But the deal is an admission by Cisco that it has been challenged in bringing TelePresence systems down market, analysts say. About 18 months ago, Cisco rolled out the TelePresence 500 system for "personal" virtual conferencing in private offices, but analysts say that system has had a hard time cracking a market already well served by Tandberg, Polycom, LifeSize and others.

"They've struggled," says Vanessa Alvarez, an analyst at Frost & Sullivan. "They weren't going to capture a significant share. So if you can't beat them you might as well join them."Another challenge for Cisco will be to bring all of its different piece parts of video conferencing and telepresence together, says Ken Dulaney of Gartner.

"It's not clear that people want to buy a lot of pieces," Dulaney says.

Slideshow: Hottest tech M&A deals of 2009

He compares Cisco's portfolio to that of Microsoft's, which starts from a common base of Exchange and features an integrated client.

"Those endpoints will be difficult for Cisco to achieve," he says.

The key to success with the deal is for Cisco to embrace Tandberg's leadership in adopting standards that make interoperability with other vendors' telepresence gear simpler, says Henry Dewing, an analyst with Forrester Research.

Without such interoperability business-to-businesses conferencing won't proliferate, and that will limit demand for the gear, he says.

So far, Cisco has been lagging.

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