Cisco Offers Partners 90 Percent Discount on Telepresence Demo Units

By Chris Talbot

Cisco is working to make video and unified communications a more attractive proposition for small businesses, predicting that in just a few years 90 percent of network load will come from video applications. That means a big opportunity for partners, who now have the option to resell technology such as WebEx, rather than just refer leads to Cisco, and are getting more options to bring down costs for small business customers.

 "We think video is the new voice. We think video is going to become the default method of communication," said Barry O’Sullivan, senior vice president of the voice technology group at Cisco Systems.

With an increased focus on unified communications and collaboration technologies and solutions, Cisco’s plan is for every endpoint it ships to be video-enabled, and according to O’Sullivan, the company is getting closer to achieving that dream. Cisco announced two new IP phones last week that are video-enabled, and the price point didn’t change from the prior voice-only versions. The company now has a variety of video communications modes, from the three-screen telepresence room setups down to desktop video software and the Cius tablet, he said.

"It’s pervasive video. That’s the way we’re thinking about it. And there’s a big opportunity there for partners, too, because they’re going to have make sure networks are ready for video. I think there’s an opportunity for partners to help customers get ready for it, plan for it and make sure it’s a good experience."

O’Sullivan recently echoed Cisco’s chairman and CEO John Chambers’ comments during his keynote speech at the Cisco Partner Summit in New Orleans last month. As Chambers explained during his presentation, video is the fifth top priority for Cisco. Although video got downplayed a bit in favor of discussions about cloud computing and a change from a focus on solutions to a focus on architectures, Chambers noted that video is going to be responsible for 90 percent of network loads by 2014.

"It’s going to fundamentally change the way we communicate, the way we develop products, the way we go to market," Chambers said.

To get partners on board and using video technology more regularly, Edison Peres, senior vice president of worldwide channels, announced the Yes! to Video promotion for partners, which will give partners a telepresence starter package that includes either the EX90 or EX60 telepresence units at 90 percent off regular price. This should put more partners on Cisco’s telepresence system, driving more use of telepresence conversations.

However, there’s one major obstacle in the way of video communications becoming the new voice. Interoperability between different vendors’ video communications systems, O’Sullivan told Channel Insider.  Vendor video-enabled endpoints need to be able to talk to each other for video to truly be like the phone (could you imagine if your mobile phone could only talk to other phones on the same network?).

The good news is the first developments towards creating a truly ubiquitous video user experience are already happening, with some vendors announcing their intentions to adopt a video interoperability protocol. Don’t expect that to happen over night, though. O’Sullivan said he expects that it could be two to three years away before video becomes truly ubiquitous, with the only requirement for video communication is a camera and a device with a browser on it. At that point, there will be more adoption.

Another obstacle is price. Right now, video deployments are mostly restricted to the enterprise. For the SMB market to latch onto the technology, the price points will need to plummet, and the installation will also have to become a lot simpler.

Another major milestone in Cisco’s unified communications and collaboration strategy came about at the recent Partner Summit when it was announced that WebEx would finally be available for resale by the partner community. Up until now, partners have only had the option of referring the business to Cisco (they’ve been compensated for any successful referrals, but it’s been a direct sale since the WebEx acquisition).

Cisco is finally opening up WebEx for resale to its partner community, and in doing so, the vendor is hoping to make WebEx part of every unified communications and collaboration deal that partners sign with customers.

During a question and answer period with media and analysts, Chambers admitted that mistakes were made with the integration of WebEx into the Cisco family. He noted that Cisco had left WebEx alone for too long and should have integrated it tighter and more quickly.

Currently, 80 million WebEx minutes per month are being used by Cisco, its partners and its customers. According to Cisco, WebEx has more than 50 percent of the share of the web conferencing market, in part because it’s available on a variety of platforms (Windows, Mac, iPad, Android, etc.), O’Sullivan said.

With partners now able to sell WebEx to their customers and receive recurring revenue from renewed WebEx subscriptions, as well as additional margin being made from Cisco’s VIP program, could Cisco increase its marketshare further? Only time will tell.

The reason it took so long to open WebEx up was because Cisco had a lot of work to integrate WebEx into Cisco and to integrate WebEx into Cisco’s existing product portfolio, O’sullivan said.

"It really wasn’t ready to go as a full resale product until now," O’Sullivan said.
Now that the kid gloves are off, Cisco is getting ready to make a hard push on WebEx, with the expectation being that all unified communications and collaboration deals will eventually include WebEx.

"We want to mainstream WebEx into our channel model and get that machine working for us and our partners," O’Sullivan said.

Cisco also announced two new unified communications platforms for the SMB market. The Cisco Unified Communications 320 for small businesses and the Unified Communications Manager Business Edition 3000 for mid-sized businesses will provide new opportunities for partners to bring unified communications to the SMB market at a price point Cisco executives believe will be attractive to SMBs.

"The UC320, which includes UC capability, Wi-Fi, some switching, auto-attendant, voicemail and integration of mobility -- all of that is for up to 24 users -- comes in at a street price at $165 per user, including everything and including the phones," O’Sullivan. The BE 3000, which can support up to 300 users but doesn’t include the Wi-Fi and switching capabilities, will cost mid-sized businesses $100 per user.


This article was originally published on 2011-03-22