Cisco touts new desktop videoconferencing technology

Cisco touts new desktop videoconferencing technology

Cisco officials offered some hints about future technology directions this week, giving a brief description of Internet Protocol desktop videoconferencing capability coming next year and laying out their interest in providing products for autonomic and utility computing.

As other Cisco officials were announcing improved routers for service provider clients, Charlie Giancarlo, Cisco's senior vice president of product development, talked up IP desktop videoconferencing hardware and software slated to ship by mid-2004 and to be compatible with existing IP telephony systems from Cisco.

In an interview at Cisco's Worldwide Analyst Conference 2003, which is taking place in California over two days, Giancarlo said desktop videoconferencing has been an area of interest for years by Wall Street firms that hope to use it to share ideas.

With the bandwidth in many LANs "huge," the new Cisco videoconferencing product will run without the jerkiness and other distortion typically associated with earlier desktop solutions, Giancarlo said. He added that users are also interested in replacing awkward videoconferencing systems that involve rolling equipment around on carts or reserving space in a special room.

Cisco will sell a Universal Serial Bus-equipped desktop camera and software, Giancarlo said. Although few details were available, the hardware and software are expected to cost less than $US 200 per desktop and will require a PC with at least a 1-GHz Pentium 3 processor, according to Don Proctor, vice president of Cisco's voice technology group.

Proctor said it will be the first videoconferencing system to run the video stream over the same connection as the audio stream.

Brian Riggs, an analyst at Current Analysis in Sterling, Virginia, said that "all the pieces are coming together" for strong market interest in desktop videoconferencing, with more IP networks deployed and several other major telecommunications equipment providers planning desktop videoconferencing systems in the coming months. He said Nortel Networks, Alcatel and Avaya are all developing products.

On a separate topic, Giancarlo defended Cisco's investment in IP telephony products, despite some defections earlier this year by customers including Merrill Lynch, which went to a hybrid IP and Time Division Multiplexing (TDM) system from Basking Ridge, N.J.-based Avaya. New York-based Merrill Lynch said it made the switch because that system would have built-in redundancy in the event of disaster.

"We don't want to lose any customers," Giancarlo said. Cisco's share of all phone systems has increased from about 4 per cent globally to 7 percent in the past two years. "We've had very stable business," he added.

Cisco now has 13,000 IP telephony customers. Twenty of those have more than 50,000 users each on IP telephones. In all, Cisco has the broadest selection of IP telephone sets -- seven -- and has sold 2.3 million of them, he said, adding that the security and redundancy in IP telephony systems from Cisco rivals hybrid IP-TDM systems.

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