With Umi, Cisco Stakes Claim in Home Telepresence

Cisco Umi Telepresence

broadband video

Umi Telepresence uses a mix of hardware, software and cloud services. It includes a telepresence camera that sits on top of the HDTV and a set-top box that connects to the Internet either wired or wirelessly. A third component called Umi Cloud Services handles video storage and also delivers a range of Web enabled features.

At a media event in San Francisco, Marthin De Beer, senior vice president of Cisco's Emerging Technologies Group (ETG) said the pervasive use of video is a new market transition that's just getting started, but the video collaboration technology that's built into Umi is now ready for the home.

"People only use this technology if the experience is good enough. The experience we created is very specific to the consumer," said De Beer. "It's about a new experience in the living room to connect with friends and family."

Umi has been rumored for nearly two years, and it puts Cisco into direct competition with Skype and other consumer-oriented Web videoconferencing companies. Other large networking vendors have also been hungrily eyeing this market segment.

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Next: The Bad News For Solution Providers

The bad news for Cisco solution providers that focus on the home is that Cisco is selling Umi directly as well as through Best Buy. Set-up of Umi is fairly simple and takes about 20 minutes, but in cases where installation services are needed, Best Buy's Geek Squad will be the solution provider.

"We're every excited about our Best Buy relationship," Gina Clark, vice president and general manager for Umi Telepresence, said at the event.

Umi's lofty price tag makes it something of a luxury item, but Cisco's view is that once people experience Umi Telepresence in the home, they'll be instantly hooked by the experience it delivers.

Umi serves as a video answering machine that allows users to record their own video greeting and callers to leave their own video messages. Missed call messages are stored online, and Umi users can log in and view them on their mobile device while they're away from home, Clark said.

Umi users can also record video clips and share them on Flipshare, Facebook, Youtube or via e-mail. Cisco has partnered with Google to allow Umi calls to interoperate with Google Video Chat, Clark said.

Next: The Real Kicker: Umi's Lofty Price Tag

Umi Telepresence is priced at $599 with a $24.99 monthly subscription that includes unlimited video calling, storage and messaging. It's available now for pre-order and will become generally available on Nov. 14.

Cisco has been doing field trials of Umi Telepresence with Verizon, which plans to offer Umi to its FiOS customers in early 2011, according to Clark. Verizon's Umi will be interoperable with Umi customers on Comcast, Time Warner, Cox, and other service providers. "Umi is completely interoperable across all these networks," Clark said.

Cisco is gearing up for a major holiday season marketing push for Umi, and has partnered with the Oprah Winfrey Show to feature Umi for remote interviews of show guests. Cisco is also embarking on a nationwide mall tour and Umi advertising campaign featuring actress Ellen Page.

Cisco put a great deal of effort into creating a user interface for Umi that doesn't interfere with the TV viewing experience, Clark said. Cisco has achieved this through a minimalist clover-shaped UI that features four expandable tabs for storing messages, placing video calls, and shuttling back and forth between TV and telepresence mode.

Privacy is another area that required a significant amount of forethought on Cisco's part, according to Clark. Umi can block all incoming video calls or allow only contacts from a users list of contacts, and it also has a parental lock.

"This was like letting someone in your living room," Clark said.