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Cisco takes its lumps, keeps developing video meeting tools

The Cius tablet is all but dead and rental telepresence suites haven't bloomed, but there's still a future in software, Cisco says

Cisco Systems owned up to some miscalculations in its video collaboration strategy but showed off some promising future capabilities in a briefing with media this week.

The company's video meeting business is best known for its TelePresence Meeting Systems, especially the high-profile three-screen meeting rooms that include Cisco-designed furniture and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. But Cisco is now looking beyond those swanky environments toward mobile devices that can bring video meetings to participants wherever they are.

One platform intended as part of that strategy, the company's Android-based Cius tablet, has been cut from future development plans, said Barry O'Sullivan, senior vice president and general manager of the Collaboration Technology Group, during the briefing at Cisco on Thursday afternoon. Cisco discussed the move in a blog post later on Thursday. The Cius will still be available for companies that specifically want a device issued and tightly controlled by the IT department, but Cisco won't be developing more form factors for the platform, O'Sullivan said.

Cisco now acknowledges most enterprises let employees bring their own tablets to work, citing its own survey that said 95 percent of companies have a BYOD (bring your own device) policy.

"When we talk to them about the Cius tablet, they say, we love the collaboration experience on Cius, but can you please take that software and put it on other devices?" O'Sullivan said.

"Our strategy for the future is all about software," O'Sullivan said.

The next chapter in that push is a new client for Jabber, Cisco's voice, video, instant-messaging and presence platform, coming this summer. Jabber clients are already available for Apple iOS and for Research In Motion's BlackBerry platform, as well as Windows PCs, and will soon come out for general Android tablets, he said.

The new Jabber client will allow users to take video calls on PCs, tablets and Cisco TelePresence systems and transfer the calls from one platform to another. Cisco APIs (application programming interfaces) allow Jabber functions to be integrated into Microsoft Outlook so users can find contacts and start Jabber calls from Outlook, and this integration will be expanded in the new versions.

At the briefing, Cisco demonstrated Jabber sessions being moved among different platforms. It also showed users of third-party videoconferencing systems, including Microsoft Lync and a Polycom HDX system, becoming full participants in a Cisco TelePresence meeting. Cisco's inclusion of industry standards including SIP (Session Initiation Protocol), H.323 and H.264 make this possible, the company said.

The full-scale TelePresence platform is still marching forward despite the new emphasis on bringing in diverse clients. And real-time translation of telepresence meetings is back on Cisco's roadmap.

In late 2008, Cisco video chief Marthin De Beer said that he expected that feature to go on sale with 20 languages in the second half of 2009. But a year later, Cisco said the system's accuracy wasn't high enough and the company didn't even have a forecast for when it would go on sale.

Cisco is still working on it, said De Beer, now senior vice president of Cisco's Video and Collaboration Group.

"It's coming along. It's not quite real-time yet," De Beer said. "It's a little bit too expensive still to do that and the technology's not ... perfected enough." But De Beer once again expects the feature to be commercially available within a year or two. Cisco does offer translation of a recorded meeting within a few minutes, he said.

The Cisco TelePresence systems already installed in enterprises are being used about six hours per day on average, De Beer said. But new mobile video options may be hurting another business Cisco once promoted as a big potential market, of videoconferencing suites for rent in hotels and airports, he said.

"It is being used. It has not gone pervasive, it has not gone big," De Beer said. "We've sold probably hundreds of units in that space." The Marriott hotel chain has set up suites in multiple of its locations, he said. But the rentals, which in some cases were priced at hundreds of dollars per hour, may not be necessary down the road.

"Now that video becomes pervasive on your iPad, on your smartphone and your PC, maybe that use case will actually diminish," De Beer said.

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 [email protected]


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