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Happy Birthday Cisco TelePresence: Look What's Happened in the Past 5 Years

Last week Cisco held a couple of industry analyst and press roundtables to celebrate the 5th anniversary of it’s TelePresence solutions. Now, TelePresence itself is much more than five years old. The first commercially available product was launched in the mid 90s from a company called Teleport, which became Destiny Conference that Polycom acquired in 2007. Even after that, Marconi had a cool product called VIPR, and HP of course, had Halo. But it was Cisco that evangelized the space and made TelePresence a household term (well, at least for us geeky folks).

I remember the first time I experienced TelePresence. It was in one of the Cisco buildings (10 I think) and Ron Davis, the Cisco AR person for it at the time, convinced me to try it out. I walked into the room, rolled my eyes and thought to myself that the last thing I wanted to see was another video conferencing solution. After just a few minutes though I really did appreciate how different it was from the other traditional video solutions that I had used. And the rest, shall we say, is history.

Since then, Cisco has advanced the technology significantly. It's integrated into calendaring systems, interoperable with WebEx, Callway and other video systems. There are more versions of TelePresence that expand the solution from the original immersive room experience to bring in more participants in more locations.

Five years ago, TelePresence was something only a few of us had heard about; today it's something that many of use regularly. Cisco isn’t the only vendor that’s been pushing TelePresence over the past five years. Obviously, the integration of TelePresence into our lives wasn't solely due to Cisco. HP had Halo, Polycom, as they're prone to do, followed Cisco's lead and came out with their own solution, and Lifesize came out with a great set of products that were much lower cost and provided an excellent experience as well

In addition to the infrastructure market, there have been several innovative happenings on the services side that you could argue were actually even more important. Anyone that's ever looked at the video market would say that one of the big problems video has had is that it never benefitted from the network effect. Sure there are a lot of video nodes out there, but they're not connected nodes. Well, that problem is rapidly falling.

Cisco launched its B2B service, which many big telcos such as Orange, AT&T, Verizon and NTT have adopted (you would have thought they would have tried to solve this problem prior to the Cisco service!). In my opinion, Tata though has been the gold standard for telcos with regard to robustness of service and aggressiveness of go-to-market. Additionally, Glowpoint has rolled out a robust, independent B2B exchange that many service providers have joined. Vidtel rolled out a "meet me" service where participants can just dial in to a video "bridge" and connect with others for a single monthly fee. Finally, the B2B problem is being addressed.

The media events by Cisco were more than just a "Hey, we're five years old" celebration. The company also made a number of product announcements, including less expensive and portable services. The products included the TelePresence MX300, a multipurpose system that sets up fast for smaller conference rooms. Cisco also announced its Jabber Video for TelePresence, an HD video calling application designed to allow users to invite others to join a TelePresence call from a desktop, laptop or tablet. Additionally, Cisco also announced its Callway service (similar to Vidtel) that allows customers to lease the equipment and unlimited calling for $99 per month.

Lastly, Cisco announced a vertical TelePresence solution--the VX Clinical Assistant--a purpose-built mobile cart for healthcare settings. The VX Clinical Assistant allows medical professionals to communicate with patients right at the bedside. Over the next few years, I would expect to see more vertical TelePresence solutions.

All of these announcements are Cisco's attempt to "democratize" video by making it more affordable for companies of all sizes and easier to use for non-technical individuals. While there are lower cost versions of the various solutions, for example Vidtel versus Callway, Lifesize versus Cisco TelePresence, etc, there isn't a company out there that can deliver video in so many different forms with so many different experiences.

To that I say, Happy Birthday Cisco TelePresence, thanks for pushing this market in the past five years. Keep pushing, though, as there are a number of smaller, innovative companies right on your heels, such as the previously mentioned Vidtel and Lifesize, and hot startup Vidyo. Ultimately though, video might finally be at the point where it acts as a rising tide that should lift most of these boats.