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Cisco: Free drug samples

Chris KoehnckeChris Koehncke

drugsThank you Cisco for taking a 10 year old ancient video codec called H.264, ponying up $6.5m a year to pay licensing fees for us poor Internet sods and pretending like you’re the good neighbor by posting all of this on a .org domain. I was born at night, just not last night. When did Cisco suddenly become some benevolent care giver to the Internet world? Ah never.

What I dislike more than anything else is when a company pretends to be doing something transparently when in fact, it is anything but transparent. What exactly are the terms and conditions around Cisco deal with MPEGLA? No response. Why would MPEGLA allow this? No answer. Thanks for the old stuff, what about the new H.265 codec?  Never heard of it.

All of this sounds like our neighborhood drug dealer giving out free samples in hopes of getting us hooked. Monty Montgomery (@Mozilla but writing on his own)  gushes on his blog  how the battle for VP8 has been lost with this announcement (really – a single announcement, a day into it and the battle is already lost? I’m not sure I want Monty defending my country).

The key message is that Cisco is “paying” the royalties for all of us. Gee thanks. But this also means that H.264 is not free, just that Uncle Cisco paid our tab. What happens when Uncle Cisco doesn’t want to pay the tab anymore?

Clearly Cisco is feeling very threatened despite being a $20 billion a year business generating $5 billion in profit. Open source routing & networking software, open source cloud platforms, WebRTC threatening both their WebEx business and video conferencing business and lets not forgot their legacy voice PBX business (oh I’m sorry, almost forgot the new name – Unified Communications) gone to hell in a hand basket. The risk of becoming irrelevant is very real. Not short term, but clearly longer term. Note to CEO – time to take some action. And indeed they have.

“If you can’t beat them, arrange to have them beaten.” 
― George Carlin

I’m not proposing that our friends at Google are more benevolent. They play a complex game themselves. But clearly this announcement (aka salvo) is aimed directly towards Mountain View. My guess is Google is not going to bother to react. Cisco doesn’t make, own or control the browser or the desktop. So who cares? This is clearly a move by the old guard to try and disrupt the new guard.

We, as a group, need to spend more time on innovation; increasing the efficiency of our communications is the path forward toward new market opportunities and the time we spend arguing about patents and licensing is wasted. If you & I can game this announcement to our advantage, why not, but I’m not interesting in being played. Unfortunately, this announcement smacks of us being played.

Comments 6
  • Philipp Hancke
    Posted on

    Philipp Hancke Philipp Hancke


    I do wonder if Cisco is going to pay any _additional_ money for this…

    There is a reaction from Google: — note the careful wording which shows years of experience at the IETF court.

  • Lawrence Byrd
    Posted on

    Lawrence Byrd Lawrence Byrd


    Goodness, Chris, what do you really think?! Of course Cisco is protecting it’ turf and looking to expand its business by trying to ensure that standards are aligned with its own existing and future products. What large company is not doing this, including Google and others starting with ‘G’?! Are you leaving the evil corporate world and going native (or to put it in the terms of your article – what on earth were you ingesting in Portland just recently :))? There is nothing unexpected here – Cisco has a large product commitment to H.264 and wants it to be the WebRTC MTI video codec which will greatly simplify integration with their many products while not requiring them to start supporting Google’s codecs and future directions. Makes perfect evil business sense. H.265, VP9, Daala if it is to be believed, are all in the future and await much later IETF decisions, plus once H.264 or VP8 is in there as a core “lowest-common-denominator” MTI it will probably stay there for a long while as other add-on “choices” are added by different vendors. I am not usually a Cisco apologist, and personally I like the VP8/VP9 plan, but I think their announcement clearly shows that they consider WebRTC to be very important, and they therefore want H.264 to be a WebRTC MTI video codec – yes, for all their own obvious evil business reasons.

  • song zheng
    Posted on

    song zheng song zheng


    Great Analogy. To be fair though, Cisco took the first step in the right direction. If they took a few more steps in the right direction they’ll be running full speed toward awesome:

  • Brett
    Posted on

    Brett Brett


    While I generally agree with what you’re saying, you have an air of ‘anger’ about it. I agree with Lawrence that this is just a business move … i don’t think we need to bow to Cisco in thanks, but just take it for what it is, and it does have the potential to allow ubiquitous interop sooner rather than later. I don’t think it kills VP8/9 either just yet .. agree with that.

    Constructive criticism: For me, when I see 2-3 grammatical or spelling errors in a short blog such as this, it immediately decreases the credibility of the author. Clean it up!

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