Cisco is making a concerted effort to improve the compatibility of its telepresence gear, something that industry observers say has been lagging, but that is sorely needed if it and other vendors are to succeed.
During its Collaboration Summit, the company told analysts that it is presenting its telepresence protocol to the IETF so other vendors can fashion ways for their equipment to interoperate with Cisco's, says Henry Dewing, an analyst with Forrester Research.
In addition, Cisco announced a Rosetta Stone of high definition videoconferencing that will also address interoperability, one of the biggest problems facing the technology. "That's part and parcel of the problem people have, interoperability with Cisco TelePresence," he says.
Submitting Cisco's telepresence protocol to the IETF means it could become a standard that other vendors could adopt or at least accommodate when creating their own gateways that translate the protocols used in videoconferencing, he says. The problem is that rather than send separate streams for video, audio and data, Cisco blends them into a single stream using its own protocols that other vendors have trouble interoperating with. Many other vendors send streams separately via standard protocols.
If the Cisco's protocol is dealt with by all vendors, telepresence and high definition videoconferencing between businesses will become more common because businesses using HP or Polycom or Tandberg gear will be able to hold conferences with customers of Cisco's gear.
In addition to the announcements last week, Cisco's bid to buy Tandberg is seen as a step toward interoperability, because Tandberg is widely viewed as making the best effort on its own to comply with standard protocols and to interoperate with other vendors' versions of those protocols. The Tandberg deal is pending and may fall through, but it still indicates that Cisco has an interest in compatibility.
Making business to business telepresence simpler will help all vendors and may be necessary if Cisco wants to reach its goal of making telepresence a $1 billion (£600m) revenue stream for itself, Dewing says. But other announcements made at the Cisco Summit will contribute.
High among them is the Rosetta Stone router blade, Cisco's Media Experience Engine 560, that will provide connectivity among Cisco's TelePresence gear and products made by other vendors, including both telepresence equipment and high-definition videoconferencing hardware, the company says.
Like the actual Rosetta Stone, Media Experience Engine has its limits. The device can translate protocols used by Tandberg, Polycom and LifeSize in their telepresence and HD video gear, Cisco says, but not other vendors. Participants in conferences from sites supported by those vendors' equipment can be displayed within Cisco telepresence sessions, and the Media Experience Engine. If a site uses a lower definition video display, for instance, the Cisco engine can scale down the transmission to suit the endpoint.
The new device will be available in January.