Networking

Cisco down to business with gear for digital home

CEO John Chambers said at the Consumer Electronics Show that he wanted the public to understand Cisco's commitment to consumer products generally. “We are really committed to this consumer market and we're putting the power of the whole company behind it,” Chambers said.

Cisco has been active in building and marketing consumer products such as

Linksys Wi-Fi routers for five years, but Chambers pointed to today's announcements as examples of products that will move Cisco's revenues for consumer products from $1 billion a year to his goal of $10 billion.

Chambers also said the company will begin more active branding and marketing of its consumer products, using the Cisco brand name, over the next year. He also said the company was working to build handheld wireless devices for consumers, using internal development teams and partnering with other companies.

Zeus Kerravala, an analyst at The Yankee Group in Boston, said the consumer direction for Cisco, the leader in networking products used by businesses and service providers, was still an uphill battle.

Consumer products are still “the next frontier for Cisco … [which] has very little name recognition with consumers,” Kerravala told Computerworld .

“Most of the things Cisco sells to consumers today, the consumer use but never see,” Kerrvala said. “They make Linksys routers and TV set-top boxes, so the overall awareness by consumers is low. Consumers say, 'That's the company that makes that Internet stuff.'”

However, Kerravala said Cisco could succeed in the consumer market with the “long hard work of delivering consistent products.”

Cisco Eos: A platform is born

Warner Music Group was named by Cisco as the first entertainment company to use the Eos platform for sites from artists Laura Izibor and Sean Paul.

The platform includes analytics and site management tools, Cisco officials said. Eos relies on drawing consumers to recording artists and others at their own branded sites where they can meet other fans through links to YouTube and Facebook, as well as other social networking services.

Dan Scheinman, general manager of media solutions for Cisco, said the tools can be used to help companies build social networking connections in a fraction of the normal time involved. Eos is a software and a service that allows media companies to focus on their end users rather than building and maintaining their own Web platform, he said.

Cisco plans to integrate Eos with more of its products in the future to extend online entertainment to multiple screens, including TV and mobile devices, the company said.

Michael Nash, executive vice president of digital strategy at Warner Music Group, said in a statement that using Eos was a part of a larger plan to rely on key partners like Cisco to allow connections between fans and their favorite artists. “The industry has seen a dramatic shift in the way consumers engage in the entertainment experience and we are exploring ways to partner with Cisco to leverage their technology platforms to create new opportunities to monetize that engagement,” Nash said.

Media Hub, wireless audio: Convergence at last?

Cisco also announced a media hub to allow a user interface for access to digital video, photos and music spread throughout a consumer's home. The device, Linksys by Cisco Media Hub, will provide automatic searches for media devices on a home network, allowing the user to find and access digital media more easily. It provides automatic backup softwware and runs nearly silently, Cisco said.

The Media Hub comes in three configurations, starting at $300 for a 500GB hard drive and up to $430 for a 1TB hard drive. It is available now in the U.S. and will be available in Canada, the U.K., Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands in the first quarter of this year. An annual subscription of $10 is required, although the first year is provided with purchase. One version, the NMH400, is 7.8 x 4.4 x 6.6-inches in size.

Ned Hooper, Cisco's corporate director for the consumer business group, described the Media Hub as fully functioning Network Attached Storage device for the home.

Cisco also announced a wireless home audio system, priced between $300 and $1,000, that products synchronization when listening to the same song throughout the home. It is compatible with Apple Inc.'s iPod and iTunes, as well as popular Internet services such as Real Networks ' Rhapsody. The new system is available in the U.S. now and will be available in some European countries in the first quarter.

While the wireless home audio system works only with audio now, Hooper said Cisco was working to make it capable of handling video as well.

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