Cisco Delivers Chocolate Sushi with UMI Video Telepresence

CISCO UMI TELEPRESENCE:  OK, first the name.  During the press conference I sat in between Harry McCracken of Technologizer, and Kara Swisher from All Things D – and Kara was the queen of snark.  “It sounds like Sushi”, she quipped, and then proceeded to use the food analogy in her quick UMI write-up.

Umi promises to bring Cisco’s vaunted commercial teleconferencing to consumers, but they are going to run into three big problems.  First, for the device to really shine, each side needs to buy a $600 device – which includes settop box, camera and remote control.  Unfortunately the money doesn’t end there – you need to spend another $25 a month for the “service”, which as far as I can tell gives you simply online storage for up to 100 minutes of saved video. 

Want to connect up to family?  It’ll cost you $1,200 to get started and $50 a month for the service.  That’s way too much in a world still reeling from “the great recession”.  Cisco’s Ken Wirt kept talking about “unlimited calls”, but that’s not going to fly with the geeks, as it’s an internet device, and once you pay your service provider, IP is free. 

And that’s the second problem.  UMI requires 1.5 megabits of upstream bandwidth for its lowest level – 720p, and a full 3 megabits up for what they call “1080p” – but at 30 frames per second sounds like 1080i to me.  Got less than that?  “Tough luck” said one of the Cisco reps, saying that you’d better upgrade your broadband to nosh on UMI. 

Also, UMI includes both wireless “N” and wired connections, but in many households getting a sustained 1.5 to 3 megabits of consistent bits is going to be even more challenging that getting your ISP to deliver them to your home. 

Finally, the name.  UMI – pronounced You-Me – is cute.  But Telepresence?  That’s a word only a geek could love.  Those wacky scientists over at Cisco better come up with a catchy new name and quick.  Because Telepresence works in the world of IT, but not in the world of Barney and Survivor.

The demos looked good, but the environments were pre-screened.  Oprah’s going to be pushing UMI along with other celebrities – but there are going to be a lot of returns, from a lot of unhappy everyday users. 

UMI is a bit ahead of its time.  At $249, with no monthly charge, and with support for lower than 1.5 megabits it would probable be a mid-level success.  But at that price it’s headed for a fall.

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