What's next for telephony? Cisco voice chief says video calls to be 'norm'

Steve Slattery, vice president and general manager of Cisco Systems' IP communications, recently spoke with SearchUnifiedCommunications.com about how video will influence Cisco voice products and the UC market as a whole.

Simple voice phone calls will become as archaic as the fax machine, according to Steve Slattery, vice president and general manager of Cisco Systems' IP communications business unit, which develops IP telephony systems and phones. Slattery recently spoke with SearchUnifiedCommunications.com about how video will influence Cisco voice products and the UC market as a whole. The following is an edited transcript.

Since adoption of voice over IP (VoIP) has become so widespread, what do you see as the next step for Cisco voice products and IP communications in general?
Steve SlatterySlattery: We believe video is really a core motive for collaboration. We're starting to use the tagline, "Video is the new voice." So, we really see the evolution of the network and the user experience where video starts to be the norm when you communicate or collaborate with someone. [It depends] on where the user is, what access they have and what device they have available, but we're really big believers that video is going to be the new norm.

We brought out our first video telephony devices for the masses with our 9971 set of endpoints. Originally, we were going to offer the video as an option. There's a camera that plugs into the endpoint and there's software there as well. Originally, we were going to sell those as accessories, but we decided we really believe in the value of video in enriching the user experience, so we've decided to bundle it in at the price we would sell the whole phone for initially. So we're essentially giving video for the price of voice. I think you're going to see that more of a theme for us going forward as we work and develop our portfolio -- really driving the value of video. With our Tandberg acquisition and our telepresence portfolio, we now have a pretty complete portfolio of video endpoints for video conferencing, and now we're supplementing that underneath with things like Cius, where video plays a big part, and these new video endpoints, starting with our 9971. You'll see more of that going forward.

But video conferencing has been around for quite some time. Why is this different?
Slattery: I'm not talking about video conferencing. I'm talking about video communication. Video conferencing is kind of an event … and our TelePresence portfolio has shown there are different types of experiences, and telepresence has been very successful. I now use it every day instead of traveling and have had great experiences in terms of conferences, but I'm talking about casual phone calls -- just your everyday interaction with coworkers or customers. Having video casually -- and good-quality video -- is what we're talking about, so it's not video conferencing in the traditional sense.

Where do you see the most growth coming from, in terms of Cisco voice and UC deployments -- on-premise, hosted, managed or some combination thereof?
Slattery: The same day that we announced the Cius, we also announced our hosted collaboration solution [with Verizon Business], which kind of got lost in the noise, which is unfortunate because that was a huge announcement for us as well. I really think it is going to drive the business.

We really have seen in the last 12 to 18 months a significant shift in interest in the customers and partners around a hosted offer that people can buy on a utility basis. The offer that we've got is really unique in that it provides a complete collaboration portfolio that is in sync with our latest

 [customer-premises equipment] CPE products. Traditionally, when you look at IP centrex and some of the other carrier-based offers -- even when I look back at Nortel with their carrier offer -- the hosted offer always lags 18 months at least behind the enterprise [CPE] offer in terms of the feature set. The approach that we've taken to our hosted collaboration solution provides simultaneous capabilities and consistent capabilities. So, if a service provider delivers a CPE solution or a managed solution, their hosted solution [now has] exactly the same capability set.

[Growth] is hard to predict. On an aggregate, we've been talking with service providers and different analysts who forecast the market, and the consensus seems to be converging around the market transforming to the point where about 30% is addressed through a hosted offer … in about three years. I think it's larger than we would have guessed two years ago just because IP centrex and centrex has been around for a long time, but it's never really gotten any significant traction because it's always been feature poor relative to the other options…. I think what we're going to see is more typically … a hybrid scenario where you have customers with CPE solutions that will complement hosted solutions.

Some enterprises are interested in a fully integrated UC deployment but are overwhelmed by the range of technologies, maybe only deploying VoIP or unified messaging for now. How do you know where to go next?
Slattery: It's as varied as there are business models out there. It really comes back to the particular customer, their business model and how they operate, in terms of where I would start. How do their employees work? What really drives the business? The fundamental thing I always come back to is the business model. If you think about what collaboration is about, how do you accelerate a customer's business model? How do you get decisions made faster? What's the nature of the decisions that need to be made?

We'd done some research a while back that said about 70% of the time [spent] making a decision in a company was related to waiting to close some form of communication -- so, someone waiting for a response to a voicemail, an email, that kind of thing. The more tools that you put in the hands of employees and customers to reduce that interval -- better ways to understand a person's presence or reach a person -- you start cutting down that wait interval and eventually start accelerating their business model. But it's really dependent on that particular customer and how they work.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Jessica Scarpati, News Writer

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