This content is part of the Buyer's Guide: A guide to choosing the best video conferencing tool for your business

Examining Cisco video endpoints, infrastructure and mobility

Besides WebEx, Cisco video conferencing offers a range of options, including endpoint agility, robust infrastructure, and mobile and desktop capabilities.

Cisco is a multinational conglomerate ranked as a Fortune 100 company and a leading video conferencing provider. Cisco video endpoints support deployments from desktops to large meeting rooms. The vendor also sells video infrastructure components that manage and enhance these endpoints.

Cisco's global presence, both direct and through value-added partners, helps it serve large, multinational corporations. This extensive reach makes the video conferencing provider well-suited for medium to large enterprises that need collaborative face-to-face video meetings. These corporations typically have the Capex budgets and trained IT staffs to support video conferencing tools.

Cisco's two primary lines of dedicated video endpoints are Collaboration and Immersive TelePresence. Immersive, a more expensive product, was introduced in 2007 as Cisco's entry into the hardware endpoint business.

After its acquisition of electronics manufacturer Tandberg in 2009, Cisco improved its Collaboration technology. The Collaboration endpoints are designed to provide a simplified, scalable and high-quality video conferencing tool.

These endpoints can be separated into two categories: desktop and meeting room. Businesses can scale the Collaboration endpoints depending on whether they are outfitting an executive office, huddle room or larger conference room.

Most Cisco video endpoints are packaged with high-definition LED displays, speakers, microphones, high-definition cameras and video codecs. With this approach, users can put a product in a room, plug in the power and Ethernet and start working instantly.

TelePresence targets meeting rooms of varying sizes

For users who prefer to build their own video conferencing, Cisco offers core video components individually as well. These Cisco video endpoints support the latest audio, video and data standards. Using standards such as Session Initiation Protocol and H.323 provides high-quality video and allows interoperability with third-party devices, such as Lifesize or Polycom. The majority of the features are available throughout the product line, regardless of the product's size.

For desktops, there are dedicated Cisco video endpoints integrated in IP phones and through the DX Series of all-in-one, single-screen monitors with embedded cameras.

In the meeting room, Cisco offers the TelePresence MX Series, which scales for small, medium and large meeting rooms. The TelePresence MX200/300 line is designed to be cost-efficient for small to medium meeting rooms, while maintaining high-quality 1080p60 video and 1080p30 content. The larger TelePresence MX700/800 line is suited for larger meeting rooms with single and dual 55- to 70-inch LED screens, single and dual 20-times zoom cameras.

Cisco's Immersive TelePresence services are high-end systems designed to create the illusion of actually sitting in the same room as remote attendees. Although it is expensive and has limited applications, it is appreciated by users in finance, education and telemedicine. The IX5000 Series supports next-generation features, such as H.265 video coding, Ultra HD 4K resolution and theater-quality audio.

All Cisco hardware video endpoints are sold through value-added resellers. Feature licenses may apply. For example, many endpoints can support the embedded multipoint capability, MultiSite.

Hardware infrastructure, desktops and mobility

Cisco's infrastructure story changed dramatically last year with its purchase of Acano. The Cisco Meeting Server, formerly the Acano platform, is a leading interoperability video bridge. The product is optimized to be deployed with Cisco Unified Communications Manager, Cisco Expressway or Cisco TelePresence Video Communication Server for call control; Cisco Expressway for firewall traversal; and Cisco TelePresence Management Suite for scheduling.

As with most video conferencing vendors, there's a significant value-add when matching Cisco video endpoints to Cisco video infrastructure. 

For desktop and mobile video, Cisco has three offerings:

  • Jabber is the unified communications tool for organizations seeking a presence and messaging dynamic.
  • WebEx is a video conferencing system.
  • Finally, Cisco's software and service strategy has focused on its new Spark cloud product.  

The Spark service is Cisco's vision for the future of business communications. Spark's messaging service follows the incredibly popular Slack model of persistent project-based rooms or channels. However, that's where the similarities end. Spark is designed to meet all communication needs, from always-on messaging to video calling, phones and video conferencing meeting rooms.

Spark offers enterprise-ready security and several other enterprise features, including integrated video. The Spark cloud also supports Cisco IP phones and room video systems. So, a Spark call hosted on the Spark cloud can connect to Cisco phones and video systems, as well as the Spark app endpoint. Spark users can also join WebEx meetings from within the Spark app.

Prices vary widely depending on deployment

Cisco Jabber and Spark pricing vary based on options and service levels. The basic Spark service is free, and the first business-level plan starts at $9.50 per user, per month.  

For the desktop -- with executive offices and small meeting rooms in mind -- pricing starts at $500 to $1,000 for the IP phone series. The new 8845 phone is approximately $600, while the 8865 is about $800. For desktop video devices, prices range from $1,500 to $3,000 for the all-in-one Cisco DX Series.

In the meeting room, the MX200 has a list price just under $18,000. The MX800 can range as high as $60,000, depending on the configuration and features. IX5000 TelePresence costs approximately $300,000 for a six-seat version and $340,000 for an 18-seat version.

Infrastructure costs cover a wide range and depend on the scale of the deployment. Flexible licensing options allow customers to purchase and grow as required. Cisco has traditionally provided only hardware, but now offers other products, such as virtual machine software.

Go-to-market strategy and support

Cisco sells the vast majority of its technology through value-added resellers and is available globally. Whether a company is investing for the first time or expanding its current video conference system, it's still best to try before investing. Trial periods of 60 to 90 days are available and provide full-product functionality.

Enabling video conferencing from the desktop to meeting rooms via hardware infrastructure is not a low-cost service. Cisco offers a variety of financial options to help customers invest in video conferencing. In addition, Cisco offers the cloud-based model of Spark, which could be a more affordable option, depending on service plan and option choices.

Cisco and its partners offer support services called Smart Net. Support costs vary, but they are typically less than 10% of the product MSRP, which can be reduced through multiyear contracts.

Next Steps

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