Cisco Intros Managed Telepresence Service for SMBs

By Chris Talbot  |  Print this article Print

TelePresence Callway, a subscription-based telepresence service offered as part of the Cisco Collaboration Cloud, comes with a $99 price tag for standard definition and $149 for HD, and will be sold by channel partners.

Cisco Systems is pushing its five-year-old telepresence business from the enterprise down into the small and medium business (SMB) market with the launch of new videoconferencing products and services. The biggest announcement is the launch of TelePresence Callway, a subscription-based telepresence service as part of the Cisco Collaboration Cloud.

Hosted by Cisco as a managed service, Callway reduces the up-front capital investment from telepresence deployments for SMBs. Sold through Cisco Authorized Partners, Callway subscriptions have been priced to attract smaller businesses that are working smaller budgets and without large IT departments. Standard definition and high-definition Callway packages are available for $99 and $149 per month, respectively.

Customers need to purchase or lease select multi-purpose and personal endpoints to use with the Callway service. A Callway subscription includes unlimited calls to any telepresence endpoint and any standards-based third-party video device, and multi-party bridging capabilities for up to 12 participants. The service is available now, but how much of demand will there be in the SMB for telepresence?

"I can’t say I’ve seen a lot yet in the SMB space. I think there’s consideration now. This is more affordable. We can look at it. How can we deploy it? Certainly, there are a lot of things that need to be discussed," said Rich Costello, senior research analyst for unified communications and enterprise communications infrastructure at IDC.

The technology and an SMB-friendly price point are only two parts of the equation. There still has to be a use case to win over executives and decision-makers within SMBs. Telepresence is still a fairly new technology for the SMB (even in the enterprise, Cisco only launched its telepresence products five years ago), and although there is likely discussion going on within smaller organizations about adopting telepresence, it will take some time to catch on. Costello noted that with the launch of Callway and other cloud-based telepresence and videoconferencing services, SMBs are likely start talking more about bringing video communications into their organizations.

Michelle Warren, president of MW Research & Consulting, noted that non-verbal communications (email, IM, texting, etc.) have become the common communications methods, but it may be a generational thing. Young workers are not only adept at using video, many of them would also rather use it, she noted.

"It’s almost as if texting and that more passive form of communication has become habitual, but we can’t argue that verbal and face-to-face isn’t a more effective form of communication," Warren said.

Callway’s "all you can eat" pricing model will be attractive to SMBs. Whereas as some cloud-based video communications service providers offer services with limits on number of calls, Cisco is providing a service that enables SMBs to use video communications to their heart’s content.

"That’s really good and a good way of building up the habit of using telepresence with smaller customers, without being limited to five calls or whatever," she said.

According to Charles King, president and principal analyst of Pund-IT, the price is right, in that about $1,200 per year for standard-definition telepresence is less than what many SMBs have spent on technologies that didn’t live up to expectations. There are worse technologies they could invest in, he said.

Is it ready for SMB adoption, though?

"I think what SMBs are looking for are ways to differentiate themselves in what’s been a difficult economy and increasingly competitive markets, so being able to offer something like this ... which typically would have been associated with a much larger company, becomes a solid investment. It’s a cost-effective investment at the price that Cisco is offering without a lot of down side," King said.

Telepresence and videoconferencing used to be exclusively enterprise technologies, but as they become more commoditized and increasingly more affordable, it’s starting to get noticed by SMBs, he said.

Additionally, it could be a big opportunity for Cisco’s channel, but how much of an opportunity depends on how attractive Cisco is going to make Callway to partners.

"The price is very compelling, but I think to really bring the channel on board, Cisco’s going to have to make it worth their while, but at the same time, that’s obviously the sales strategy that Cisco is going to want to use, especially in the smaller business market," King said.

One key aspect for the channel is the ease of setup and deployment, Costello said. Beyond that, the channel will have to do what it has become accustomed to doing over the years – that is, add value to the offering.

"There’s some value-add services there for the channels around things like the types of endpoints that will need to be deployed, configurations. There’s not a lot to do with the actual deployment itself, but I think the channel partner will be involved in recommending ... how to configure and what endpoints to select," Costello said.

Also announced alongside Cisco TelePresence Callway are Cisco Jabber Video for TelePresence and the Cisco TelePresence MX300 room-based telepresence system.

Cisco Jabber Video for TelePresence is HD video-calling software designed to quickly and easily invite participants to telepresence calls from their desktops PCs, laptops or tablets. Currently in beta, the software launch is planned for the first quarter of 2012.

The MX300 was designed as a multi-purpose, room-based telepresence system with a focus on quick setup. According to Cisco (and confirmed by Costello, who is testing the product out), the MX300 can be set up in as little as 15 minutes to turn an SMB meeting room into a nine-person telepresence room. The system offers 1080p, 30fps video, and is expected to launch in the first quarter of 2012.