Cisco Systems earlier this month unveiled the Cisco Umi, which is billed as a telepresence offering aimed squarely at securing a place in the living rooms of consumers. The general idea is simple: Users buy the Cisco set-top box and a Cisco-issued high-definition camera, connect it up to their HD televisions (up to 1080p supported), furnish the requisite Internet connection, and viola! now have an instant telecommunications system right in the living room. In addition to video meetings with other Cisco Umi appliances, support for Google video chat completes the roundup.
I would say that the system is packaged in a fairly ingenious manner. An embedded microphone bolstered with audio calibration algorithms promises to reduce external noise while enhancing voices. Bundled with a remote control, Cisco positions the hardware in the premium range of $599, with the most expensive components (the high-definition TV) and recurring costs such as Internet connectivity left to the user. In fact, an additional $24.99 monthly service fee is also payable to Cisco for each device.
The last I checked, reactions from analysts and consumer sites and blogs have been ranging from lackluster to poor. Mainly, analysts bristled at the double whammy of a hefty price tag and the monthly fee. Special criticism is leveled on the "mis-price" that the recurring $24.99 a month represents, given that entrenched competitors such as Skype and Google are essentially offering free versions of the same stuff-never mind if its the quality is lower.
I'm not sure about you, but while most folks were busy bashing Cisco for its incongruous positioning toward home users, I am thinking that perhaps the Cisco Umi could be a solution that will work for small and mid-sized businesses. Remember, I wrote about Enterprise technologies that SMBs can adopt recently where I mentioned deduplication, archiving and endpoint virtualization. In the same vein, could the Cisco Umi perhaps take the place as the anemic, but perfectly serviceable, clone of its full-size Cisco TelePresence big brother?
With a price running into the tens (or even hundreds) of thousands of dollars per site, there is no doubt that even the smallest implementation of Cisco TelePresence is out of the league of most SMBs. In contrast, a price tag of $599 per node sounds like an affordable solution that can be implemented in a couple of meeting rooms for SMBs looking to defray travel costs.
Of course, there is no way to know for sure if the product is good enough for business use until the Cisco Umi is released on Nov. 14 and more users in different localities are able to give it a spin. Still, it might be something worth thinking about in the meantime.