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Cisco sets sail for teleconferencing

Bapun Raz

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Cisco Systems is likely to unveil 'tele-presence' as its latest 'advanced technology', chief executive John Chambers said in his opening keynote at the Networkers 2006 conference in Las Vegas.

An 'advanced technology' in Cisco's dictionary has the potential to generate $1bn in annual sales and will see a focus of the company's investments in research, acquisitions and partnerships.

Tele-presence is essentially next-generation video conferencing using high speed networking and high definition video, Chambers told delegates. It mostly uses existing Cisco products such as its security and online collaboration tools.

"When we described this to the engineering team three years ago, we said: 'Build it like it's Star Trek. Beam me up, Scotty! Let me be in that virtual meeting and let me do that with multiple places at the same time,'" said Chambers.

Chambers explained later in a meeting with reporters that the company has yet to make a final decision on the status of tele-presence as an 'advanced technology', but said that he was surprised by the promised productivity gains.

Current-generation video conferencing products have failed because they lack quality and interactivity, argued Brian Riggs, principal analyst for enterprise telephony at Current Analysis.

"You are basically looking at the other person's forehead. There isn't a lot of value in that," Riggs told vnunet.com.

The analyst insisted that video conferencing should allow users to read documents on their partner's tables, and that cameras should automatically focus on the person speaking.

But Riggs warned that Cisco requires help from service providers to deliver the huge bandwidth that will be required.

"The onus is not just on the enterprise. The service providers have to be involved too otherwise this will remain a technology for large enterprises only, " he said.

A video of Chambers explaining Cisco's tele-presence vision is available on the Silicon Valley Sleuth blog.