Cisco is set to push videoconferencing hard in the coming year. Last November, the company acquired video infrastructure company Scientific-Atlanta and according to president and CEO John Chambers, the company is set to build on that.

He said that company was preparing a "telepresence" system that would videoconferencing more lifelike. He added that the company was also preparing to unveil software for enterprises that would manage and present video content for employees, partners and the public. The telepresence system will use "life-size" high-definition video and directional sound technology that makes voices seem to come from where a user is located at the remote site, Chambers said.

It will even include better lighting than current systems, said Donald Proctor, senior vice president of Cisco's Voice Technology Group. The company expects the system to be announced later this year and become commercially available in about a year, Proctor said.

Videoconferencing has had a rocky history over many years, with expectations of a boom frequently dashed. Previous systems have failed because of complexity, high cost and generally poor quality, according to Proctor.

Cisco will solve the complexity problem by making the telepresence system just one component of its overall Unified Communications Architecture, which also includes IP telephony, text messaging, application collaboration and desktop videoconferencing, Proctor said. Enterprises will be able to plug it into that infrastructure, he said. Telepresence initially is designed not for desktop use but for corporate boardrooms or dedicated videoconference rooms, Proctor said.

Cisco has even seen interest from enterprises in the set-top box technology coming from Scientific-Atlanta, said Senior Vice President and Chief Development Officer Charles Giancarlo. They want a reliable, inexpensive, easy-to-use platform for one-way video such as training, he said.

The Cisco Video Management System has been deployed at several of Cisco's enterprise customers already, said Joni Blakeslee, a business development manager at Cisco. It is designed for enterprises to organise video content that in many cases is inaccessible and make it available over internal IP networks and the web, she said.

The system builds on software Cisco is already using to deliver its own video content and includes tools for enterprises to customise the interface for presenting the video, Blakeslee said.