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Messaging vs. Video

No Jitter contributor Brent Kelly, president of KelCor, had an interesting post last week, bearing the provocative headline, "Messaging: The Next Voice?" Brent makes a lot of useful points, but what I found most telling about the post is that it offered a dramatization of the difference between the Cisco of the past and what the company may have to be in the future, at least within the communications space.

The post's title is based on a question Brent posed to Cisco CEO John Chambers at a recent analyst meeting. Brent was challenging Chambers' oft-stated belief that video is the new voice. Chambers wasn't buying Brent's idea, and I'm not surprised, because in Chambers' world, messaging as the new voice isn't much of a benefit to Cisco.

The whole idea of video as the new voice, when Chambers declared it a decade ago, really had to do with where Cisco made its money then, and really still makes it today, and that is with bandwidth. Video does a terrific job eating up the capacity of Cisco switches and routers and creating demand for more and bigger ones. It also creates more demand in the datacenter, where Cisco is also a big player--bigger now than it was in 2006, when Cisco debuted telepresence as its pet bandwidth hog.

Unlike video, text messages are generally neither bandwidth-intensive nor QoS-demanding. What they are, however, is fast, simple, useful, and really popular. Video has become all of those things from a consumer standpoint, but not within the enterprise to the same degree.

Short text messaging, whether via mobile SMS or tethered IM, has become a business-critical tool, however. It's more responsible than anything else for the much-heralded death of voice mail. Whether it involves individuals texting each other to arrange a meet-up or business colleagues checking presence or shooting a quick, "You there?" IM before calling, text messaging makes voice calling more efficient. Most people would be willing to live without video before they'd give up texting.

In short, I (mostly) agree with Brent. I don't exactly think messaging is the new voice--I think voice is the new voice. But I do believe that messaging has become a truly indispensable part of voice-centric communications. Maybe it's the new "busy signal"? (Millennial readers: Ask your parents.)

At the end of his post, Brent discusses the integration of messaging into business apps, and it's here that he makes a really useful point about the evolution of Cisco. He discusses the company's acquisition of Tropo, a competitor to Twilio in the communications API/platform-as-a-service space, and speculates that messaging integration could be a serious source of revenue to Cisco.

The Cisco of the Chambers' era wasn't particularly interested in selling a piece of someone else's larger integration: It was an end-to-end play. And that's what the company as a whole is likely to remain. But enterprise communications seems poised to move away from the kind of silo-ed model for which a Cisco IP-PBX plus data network was a perfect fit. Cisco--and the rest of us--may increasingly be living in a world of integrations for communications, and the Tropo deal may be a sign that it's open to moving in that direction.

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