Cisco goes for broke in video-for-all strategy

A Cisco unified communications systemIt’s been a tough slog pitching video conferencing systems in the post-recessionary IT funk, but that isn’t discouraging Cisco Systems Inc. from throwing their substantial weight at the space. Their latest answer: Cram teleconferencing gear in every office, meeting space, break room and hall closet possible.

OK, maybe not the closet.

But this week’s move by Cisco is definitely aimed at taking high-quality video collaboration capabilities beyond the CEO suite and the main conference room and dispersing it among the masses. According to Cisco, 93 percent of the spaces where people meet and get actual work done are not video equipped.

In order to change that, Cisco is rolling out a raft of new integrated systems, updated components and clever mobile capabilities with the idea that there’s something for everyone in the vendor’s broadening video portfolio. There’s some merit to their shotgun approach here.

A global study conducted last summer by Redshift Research found that the next generation of executives under age 35 will rely on business-class video to connect with teams, colleagues, suppliers and customers, and to deliver new products and services. The survey of 1,300 young business leaders found three out of five saying they expect increased use of video in their businesses in the next five to 10 years. Of those, 87 percent say video has holds significant, positive benefits for the organization such as improved performance for telecommuters and attracting top talent, and

The study found 87 also say they would choose to work for a more video-enabled organization over one with limited investment in video communications because the former demonstrates it “cares about using technology to fuel business growth.” In addition, 94 percent of survey respondents in organizations with fewer than 400 employees say video is a key tool in overcoming language barriers in the increasingly global workforce.

With that as a driver, Cisco this week unveiled three new integrated  platforms including the value-priced Cisco TelePresence MX200 for small rooms and private offices along with the TelePresence MX700 and  MX800 for progressively larger spaces. All come with premium HD resolution and support H.265, for high-quality video even with reduced bandwidth. The MX200 starts at $17,900, the MX700 and MX800 start at $49,900.

For those looking to cobble together a systems from components they already have around the workplace, like all those old flat-panel displays most have kicking around, Cisco also debuted a SX10 QuickSet starter kit that can be used to put together a videoconferencing system in about 10 minutes for what Cisco says is the price of an average PC. SX10 is actually around $4,000.

Other TelePresence additions include a new, high-quality Precision 60 camera and a SpeakerTrack 60 input device with dual-camera system for locating the active speaker in large meeting rooms. The SpeakerTrack 60 also includes facial recognition and voice triangulation so the camera can follow the speaker from table to white board and then seamlessly move to the next speaker. The items will run you about $9,000 and $16,000 respectively.

For those into bundling, Cisco’s Business Edition 6000 and Business Edition 7000 video and collaboration kits for midsize companies and enterprises, respectively are getting a refresh with some new licensing options and improved set-up wizards for faster deployment. The 6000 series starts at $10,000 while the BE 7000 kicks off at around $23,000.

“Previous attempts to deliver collaboration have been incremental and good. But the cold, hard truth is that today’s collaboration tools are forcing users to do today’s jobs with yesterday’s technology,” said Rowan Trollope, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco’s Collaboration Technology unit. “These new products represent the first phase of a multi-phase rollout in how Cisco is reimagining collaboration and setting the foundation for a revolution in the industry.”

One of the cooler parts of the entire announcement is word that Cisco is taking its Intelligent Proximity technology out of beat and integrating it in a number of the new endpoints announced this week. Intelligent Proximity senses smartphones and tablets in a meeting room and prompts the user to link them to the conference for sharing files, saving slides and reviewing presentation

Cisco is not alone in mixing and matching videoconferencing wares, hoping that new combinations of hardware and software can shake up a struggling market for business collaboration systems.

Polycom Inc. last month announced virtualized and subscription-based solutions with flexible options and pricing that should help partners sell systems across a broader clientele, particularly SMBs that have traditionally been priced out of videoconferencing offerings from the major vendors.

The down-market focus for Polycom hinges on hybrid and cloud versions of its RealPresence offerings, including the new RealPresence One as an annual subscription service. The vendor is also rolling out a virtual version of its RealPresence Platform that can be loaded on industry-standard servers alongside of — or in lieu of — hardware videoconferencing appliances for organizations that prefer a less onerous hybrid approach to collaboration.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Polycom also introduced a large, on-premises videoconferencing package called RealPresence Immersive Studio, which the company bills as “an ideal think-tank for meetings, creative brainstorms or crisis management sessions.”

Polycom commands about 25 percent of the videoconferencing and telepresence market, putting it in second place behind leader Cisco Systems Inc., which owns roughly 45 percent of the market, according to IDC.

It’s been a tough time for videoconferencing vendors and the partners that support them. The segment has seen double-digit drops in quarterly sales for most of the past year, with few bright spots on the horizon.

That hasn’t soured everyone on the space, however.

“Video as a key component of collaboration continues to place high on the list of priorities for many organizations,” said IDC analyst Petr Jirovsky, who tracks the videoconferencing market. “Among the challenges customers are currently trying to work through are exactly when and how to provision their video deployments, as more software-centric solutions and video cloud service offerings become part of the enterprise video market landscape.”

This article originally appeared on