Cisco Adds Video Conferencing To IP Phones

Cisco on Wednesday unveiled software for its mid- and upper-range Internet-based telephones that will add real-time video conferencing and collaboration for less than $200 per user.

February 19, 2004

4 Min Read
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Cisco on Wednesday unveiled software for its mid- and upper-range Internet-based telephones that will add real-time video conferencing and collaboration for less than $200 per user.

The San Jose, Calif.-based company -- best known for its switches and routers -- launched server-based software, Cisco CallManager 4.0, on Wednesday, and in April will follow up with client-based drivers to patch Windows desktops and laptops into its IP-based private branch exchange (PBX) systems for delivering the video end of the conversation.

In combination with its mid-range and high-end IP phones -- including the 7940, 7960, 7970, and 7936 -- the new software integrates audio done over the phone with PC-based video conferencing, all of it managed by the company's PBX system and carried over the organization's network or via the Internet.

The client side of the new offering -- dubbed Cisco Video Telephony (VT) Advantage 1.0, transparently adds real-time, person-to-person video to telephone calls, said Cisco's Marthin De Beer, a vice president in the company's IP communications group.

"We're making video conferencing as simple as a phone call," said De Beer. "Once you're in the call, you have all the functionality of the PBX system. You can put the call on hold, for instance, transfer the call, even hit a conference button for an ad hoc meeting."But he stressed this is more than just another addition to an already glutted video conferencing market. He ticked off barriers to existing video conferencing, including hard-to-use software, lack of integration with the telephone, high price, and management hurdles, touting CallManager 4.0 and VT Advantage as best of breed in all those areas.

"Video conferencing now becomes just another phone call," he said. "There's no new interface to learn, since the solution uses the phone's interface, which everyone knows."

Calls made through Cisco's IP phones will automatically detect if the party on the other end is video enabled, and then make that option available.

But while one analyst lauded Cisco's move, he didn't paint a rosy picture of businesses jumping on video.

"It's clear that Cisco is trying to increase value to its IP phones by adding video, and to its credit this is the first time we've seen this kind of integration," said Chris Kozup, program manager with the META Group."But that doesn't change the fact that enterprises must make a business case for adding video across the network," he said. The business case for video remains "a bit fuzzy," he added, while another barrier is the impact that the high-bandwidth video data streams will have on the network.

"It's a double whammy of sorts," he said, this lack of a clear reason to upgrade to video and the hit on network performance.

"This will definitely be a gradual change," Kozup said, not a great leap forward. "I don't think you're going to see a whole lot in the next 6 to 12 months, but as networks become more robust and scalable, some businesses will deploy video on a limited basis to knowledge workers and others, people who can benefit from face time."

Cisco also announced it will beef up security in its IP phones by adding embedded digital certificates into each device, so that when a phone is first connected, it goes through an authentication process, and when calls are placed, the setup is authenticated and audio data is encrypted. CallManager 4.0 will also feature an intrusion detection system, firewall, and audit logging via the inclusion of the new Cisco Security Agent.

Although the video side of the conference won't be encrypted in this release, De Beer said that would be added in a future roll-out.Companies can also more easily migrate their existing PBX systems to Cisco IP hardware, or add IP phones to legacy systems, said De Beer, because CallManager now supports a full set of the Q.SIG protocol as well as support for Session Initiation Protocol (SIP). Q.SIG is the global signaling standard for PBX systems, while SIP is an IP telephony signaling protocol used by a wide range of hardware and software, including Cisco's MeetingPlace conferencing server.

CallManager 4.0, available now, is priced starting at $5,995, while Cisco VT Advantage 1.0 -- the Windows 2000 and Windows XP component necessary to add video conferencing to IP phone calls -- will ship in April at a price of $190 per user, and includes a USB-based camera.

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