CES - Cisco: Intelligent networks will drive convergence

Cisco's CEO outlines his vision for the connected home during a keynote speech at CES

Even before Cisco Systems Chairman and Chief Executive John Chambers took the stage at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), it was clear he'd be talking about the consumer market -- a radical change for a company best known for selling routers to enterprises. The stage featured a mock living room, kid's room, home office and car.

"While we are a leader in the enterprise, we only have 81 million [consumer] devices out there," Chambers said during a keynote speech on Tuesday. Just 10 percent of Cisco's business comes from the consumer market but targeting consumers is one of Cisco's top four goals for the future, he said.

Chambers outlined Cisco's vision for offering data, voice, video and mobility to consumers and enabling all of those services in a converged way on a variety of devices.

"Video is the killer app but it's not standalone," he said. The services won't be siloed but they'll work together in a way that end users won't notice, he said.

Key to the vision is an intelligent network that simplifies the complexity behind such services, Chambers said.

Cisco's Chief Demonstration Officer Jim Grubb showed off just what Chambers meant, outlining services that Cisco expects will be available in the market in about three years.

In a mocked-up car, Grubb used a touch screen to choose songs to play from his music collection. When he turned off the display, like when a real user would shut off the car in their garage, his cell phone beeped and displayed a message asking if he wanted to continue with the music session. The phone then played the same song just where it left off when the car turned off.

Entering the living room on stage, Grubb turned off the cell phone and turned on the TV which then displayed a similar message. He chose to continue the session and since his music collection also featured the video for the song he was playing, the video automatically started playing on the TV where the song left off.

Grubb also showed how he could access all his content and services in the same way from the TV as well as multiple computers in the house. He could also choose to share and receive content such as photos from friends as well as limit the content that children in the house could access.

Some of these capabilities could be delivered today but Chambers admitted that the complexity of setting up such a system would discourage most consumers from doing so. The solution, from the perspective of the number one networking company, is an intelligent network, he said.

Grubb demonstrated connecting a video camera into the wall and automatically receiving a message on the TV asking if he wanted to add the camera to his network. Choosing "yes" automatically adds the camera to the network so that Grubb could access it from any computer in the house and also make it accessible to others. An intelligent network would enable such a process that automatically senses and sets up new devices, Chambers said.

Cisco's acquisition of set top box developer Scientific-Atlanta, in a deal that closed in February 2006, was a clear indication of the networking giant's intention to address consumers. While Chambers didn't emphasize it, the set top box appeared to be a central device that helped enable the vision that he outlined in his speech.

That pits his vision for a converged entertainment system in the home against those of other giants: Microsoft and Apple Computer. Microsoft announced on Sunday at CES that it will soon sell a home server designed to allow multiple devices to access and share content to achieve a similar vision to the one Chambers described. On Tuesday, Apple unveiled an appliance that lets users share photos, videos and music among computers and TVs in the home.

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Nancy Gohring

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