Cisco launches home videoconferencing device

Cisco Systems, the networking equipment maker, has brought out its first homegrown product for consumers, a $599 gadget for videoconferencing from the living room.

Cisco is aiming the premium device at US customers with high bandwidth, which analysts said would limit its potential for wide adoption, while the lofty purchase price and $25 monthly fee will discourage others.

Only about 32m US homes have the minimum required upload speed, though that number should double by the end of 2012, Cisco executives said.

“They set it up for the high-end niche buyer that wants quality and security. That isn’t everyone”, said Zeus Kerravala, a Yankee Group analyst.

The product will ship on November 14 and go on sale at Best Buy retail stores.

So far, buyers of “ūmi telepresence” will be able to communicate only with other owners of the device and users of Google’s free video chat service.

Cisco has been pushing video, which requires the high bandwidth that the company’s hardware specialises in delivering, in a variety of forms. Its main Cisco Telepresence offering is popular with companies for its lifelike conferencing. Cisco recently bought Tandberg for branch offices and smaller companies.

The ūmi device does not connect to either of those services. It also has no special interaction with two household products that Cisco gained through acquisitions – the Linksys wireless router and Flip video camera.

Gina Clark, project general manager at Cisco, said more home integration was likely in the future.

In the meantime, Cisco plans an advertising campaign with actress Ellen Page and support from Verizon Communications, which said it is considering a subsidy when it resells ūmi to the more than 3m users of its fibre-only network, which offers enough bandwidth.

“It’s a fantastic experience and literally you forget that the people aren’t in the room”, said Eric Bruno, a vice-president at Verizon. “There’s no multi-tasking, no wandering off.”

The system includes a set-top box for a high-definition television set, remote control and camera that sits atop the television screen.

Rivals trying to connect to the living room, meanwhile, are offering free services. For hardware, Skype’s webcam starts at $150, as does Microsoft’s video-enabled Kinect motion controller.

Logitech, whose acquisition of LifeSize Communications last November made it a rival to Cisco in the corporate telepresence market, announced a $150 living room webcam on Wednesday as part of its Google TV product line-up.

Analysts said ūmi showed that Cisco would try to follow Apple’s strategy in the consumer realm and aim initially for a wealthier slice of the market. From that position, it can attract additional customers who are on the way up, then cut prices as component costs slide.

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