Om has a lengthy post about video conferencing and the Cisco foray into their billion dollar baby, TelePresence. Many of the news accounts of the Cisco announcement are clearly "future maybes" and given the pricing I have to just help to clarify them. $79,000. $299,000. Okay, Cisco isn't planning on selling every start up some otherwise the VC's (other than those with Cisco money) would just squirm on how their money is spent. I mean, this stuff is for those either who dream of being in the next gen version of "LifeStyle of the Rich and Famous" or a new edition of the Apprentice, but only those who want to hear the Donald's famous last words unless they are the biggest of the big.
But seriously, to me the future of video starts with the light and fleet, not initially with the big and costly. We're entering an era that I have dubbed "Instant Video." This combines both face to face communications and video publishing to blogs and web sites. People are now living in both worlds, both Real Time Communications and in the video posting realm (You Tube, Blip.tv, etc.) as part of both communications and collaboration efforts. This new era means video has to work at the laptop and mobile level, not only in a room, that is sequestered in a building and can be bought by anyone.
In my mind today's news is the typical Cisco big company effort to signal Wall Street, and their top tier customer base where they are heading, and as a result, to start budgeting for the purchase. Froma pure PR perspective, it did just that. For months I've been aware of this effort coming to fruition due to some recent hires they have made to lead efforts around the globe. But despite all the hoopla, it's not really ready for today.
As Om points out when he references SightSpeed and iChat, its already possible to deliver a "cheap" solution. Some of these solutions offer 30 frames/second, without any latency, perfectly synced audio and video, with pristine high tv like video quality. These "personal and instant solutions" don't require people or businesses to go out and assemble any special infrastructure. This speaks to the now and just how flexible the solutions they are. Those solutions will be the starting points, that lead to Telepresence.
Jim Crowe of Level3 referenced a point at his Jeff Pulver Fireside chat at the Harvard Club during VON, regarding the need to have the bandwidth to do this stuff, or fiber, isn't even lit yet. So while this is a nice nod in the Level3 firelighting departments direction TelePresence sure isn't something that people or companies will be lining up for this year or next, though Cisco would like to paint that picture (and is.)
From a cost standpoint services that are FREE or less than $5/month are here today. These services offer up the bells and whistles that Cisco is promising. They include multi-party and are portable/mobile and can work where ever you want to be, not where the Telepresence room is. That reminds me of what Kinkos used to offer with Sprint. You had to drive to the one or two places where Sprint had installed their next generation video network.
The news coming out today means that there are now two distinct categories in the video conferencing and collaboration world.
1. Personal/Instant Video Communications and Collaboration
2. TelePresence for the Enterprise, University and Government
The first category is already here. It works. It has users. Yahoo, SightSpeed (an agency client), Microsoft, Skype, Apple via iChat are the players there and over the past few months the magazines that cover the sector and have already said who's best.
The second category to me is almost in the realm of an Internet2 initiative. Mere mortals can't afford it. It's not really here yet and to drive adoption and comfort more people need to experience video conferencing. Already today inexpensive, easy to use, easy to install, without any financial barrier options are available and that holds the key to what Cisco wants to do. It's not an either or, it's a building block approach.
In today's 2.0 world the former is what will drive the latter. We have seen this with IM and many other desktop tools that have found their way into big business. Cisco would be well suited to have their Linksys group take a long look at the Personal Video Communications sector and help make that grow, as it would only be in their best interest.