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Cisco tries voice, video again

The networking giant will take a second stab at the nascent market for hardware that supports voice, video, and data traffic at the end of this month.

Networking giant Cisco Systems (CSCO) will take a second stab at the nascent market for hardware that supports voice, video, and data traffic at the end of this month.

Cisco is making its move in spite of a relatively short shelf life for the company's initial entry into the "all-in-one" concentrator market, announced last spring to much fanfare and related to an immediate boost in the company's stock. Company executives said new technology necessitated an update.

With the growing amounts of traffic based on voice, video, and data zipping across internal and public networks, data networking companies continue to develop new equipment that offers an "all-in-one" approach. Cisco rival 3Com will soon announce multimedia enhancements to their access equipment as well.

The new series from Cisco, to be rolled out at the ComNet trade show in Washington, will include technology Cisco acquired from Ardent Communications for $156 million last June. Cisco will be able to offer the new box at prices starting at $4,500 because of cost savings through chips from Motorola.

"It's a natural migration path for the product," said Peter Alexander, executive director of marketing for Cisco's multi-service access business unit.

The MC 3810, partly based on Ardent's low-end multimedia gear development, will provide links that allow departmental LANs (for local area networks) to tie into private or public wide area networks based on frame relay or cell-based ATM (asynchronous transfer mode) pipes and access data, voice, video, and fax services.

The box includes multimedia software features housed within Cisco's sprawling Internetworking Operating System and takes advantage of hardware and software voice compression technology that turns voice traffic into packets before they are sent to their destination.

It includes an Ethernet port, two serial ports, and either six analog voice ports or a single digital voice port. The box also offers modular support for T1 or E1 lines. Routing of IP and IPX packets and support for various IBM protocols is also included in the box. It is managed via a CiscoView application as well as an HTTP-based configuration server.

The offering is targeted at existing customers who want to take advantage of different media types within their organizations. Using the Ardent technology, the new box is intended to tie branch offices into this advanced multimedia wide area infrastructure to lower costs, but the hardware's application could extend to a large ATM network or central office site.

Because of the relative youth of the market, Cisco is thought to be flirting with a variety of new methods to provide multimedia services, according to industry analysts. Thus, an update to the company's original equipment offering was necessary.

"We're only at the beginning of the opportunity for voice, video, and data integration," Alexander noted.

First customer shipments are scheduled for late February, according to Cisco executives.