Telepresence and UC Evolve and Confuse

Carl Weinschenk

The telepresence sector was born a half-decade ago when Cisco released a full room system. That particular approach proved far too expensive and was soon terminated. However, the race was on for reasonably priced systems. The benefits of eliminating at least a portion of the time and expense of business travel proved a driver that endures to this day.

This week, Polycom added to its RealPresence line with the Immersive Studio Flex and the EagleEye Director. The entire system, eWeek reports, comes in versions running $189,000 or $149,000. Chris Preimesberger offers a laudatory review and says that Immersive Studio Flex can be customized according to space and budget needs. It features high-definition audio, an 18-foot video wall and three 4K UltraHD Display screens. The products are the first from Polycom since its acquisition last year by Siris Capital Group, which took it private.

Telepresence is a part of the bigger collaboration and unified communications (UC) sector. It’s gotten more confusing and overlapping in recent years as sophisticated consumer equipment and other technical advances have conflated what once were distinct communications categories.

UC Strategies’ Jon Arnold provided an update on Cisco and Microsoft, and added a tremendous amount of information about the significant strategic and tactical differences between the two huge companies’ approaches. The bottom line is pretty simple: Most business meeting rooms in the United States are not outfitted for telepresence. The challenge is integrating existing and new technology in a way that provides the best experience possible, both in terms of quality and the difficulty of managing sessions.


Spark is the Cisco product family and Skype Room Systems is from Microsoft. All these years later, it seems, the industry is still seeking the sweet spot between functionality, ease of use and expense:

Just as Spark Board is about getting workers to use the Spark platform for meetings, Room Systems does the same for Skype for Business. In this regard, both vendors are after the same thing – using video as a drawing card to use their collaboration/UC platforms during room-based meetings. Immersive telepresence is a different experience, just as is using PC-based video for informal/ad hoc meetings where the task at hand is pretty basic. With these announcements, both companies are looking for something in between – better than a desktop experience, and more accessible than telepresence, but also a richer form of collaboration in spaces that everyone uses but with subpar results until now.

The truth may be that there are so many use cases that an overall winner will never emerge. For instance, the level of performance needed by engineers in two places working on prototype designs, while being able to simultaneously share documentation and white board capabilities, is tremendously different from C-level executives getting to know each other before a big deal. The reality is that the answer may be unified communications-as-a-service (UCaaS), which enables an organization to pick and choose what it needs as opposed to focusing on difficult hardware and software decisions.

The sector may be heading, at least partially, in that direction. Yorktel last month said that it has achieved Cisco Cloud and Managed Services Advanced Certification for what it calls its TelePresence-as-a-Service specialization.

Unified communications has always been a hard category to clearly define. The definitions are certainly growing no easier to construct. The technology, however, is getting better all the time.

Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at cweinsch@optonline.net and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.


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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Feb 2, 2017 5:19 AM Joe Joe  says:
Commercial telepresence systems were not led by Cisco 5 years ago... Destiny Conferencing became the first large company to join the telepresence industry back in 2006, soon followed by others such as Cisco and Polycom. By January 2007, Destiny was acquired by Polycom, and their system was tweaked and fitted with Polycom hardware and re branded as RPX. These systems have been around for about 11 years. Reply

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