Can Cisco compete in the CE mass-market?

Cisco is an unknown brand in the CE market. But will that be a problem for it?

Cisco has won much attention from consumer news sites since the New York Times reported last Monday that the networking giant at CES this week is expected to unveil a digital stereo system that can move music wirelessly around a house, among other consumer offerings. But analysts and pundits say there are hurdles that Cisco must overcome in a market where Cisco is an unknown brand. Pundits also point to similar offerings from Sonos, Logitech and Apple.

Jonathan Greene writing in eHomeUpgrade says he's puzzled as to "why Cisco is not simply focusing on enabling the connectivity and distribution piece on the network rather than going for the end-point." He adds that he'd rather see "something neutral that provides access to content (and not just music btw) where I want it - whether that's in my house or pushed out to my mobile device." Greene also points out that Cisco will need to gain access from the very closed Apple iTunes ecosystem to make this a useful device. "So far, the standard fault of every media streamer is that it can't play iTunes DRM ... I don't see how Cisco's solution solves any of this," Greene writes.

Paul Sweeting, writing in DigitalMediaWire, points to a snippet in the Times article that Cisco is looking to develop a way for consumers to store music and video on the Web and access anywhere. Sweeting notes that Cablevision Systems' network-DVR attempted something similar but programmers tried to kill the technology by suing the developer.

Directions on Microsoft Analyst Matt Rosoff points out that enabling multiroom audio is more complex than "just a few simple tweaks to [Cisco's] existing home networking products," and that Cisco must successfully hide that complexity from users. He adds: "If it manages to hire some great UI designers and brands these products appropriately -- coming up with names that are more interesting than these would be a start -- it has a fighting chance."

Om Malik, meanwhile, believes Cisco "would need to rewire its entire DNA" to compete with the big consumer brands Samsung, Sony and Apple, but adds that Cisco "ain't got the skills." Read more about Malik's comments here.

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