Strong presence

Telepresence technology promises a revolution in corporate communications, but costs may prove prohibitive in the short term.

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By  Administrator Published  January 6, 2009

Cisco is looking to circumnavigate this problem by establishing public telepresence meeting rooms around the world, giving all companies, and even individuals, access to telepresence.

Cisco recently rolled out a number of public meeting rooms in India with Tata Communications, and has plans for more public rooms globally. Gander is hopeful that these meeting rooms will "create more leverage for the investment that the companies have made."

Going mainstream

Most vendors and analysts are optimistic that interoperability issues will be solved in the near future, and with the roll out of fibre cables helping to increase bandwidth around the world, telepresence looks set to move squarely into the mainstream.

At Polycom, we communicate all the time with the video, and if we have to use a phone, it feels weird. When you don’t have the picture of the person, technically you are missing 55% of the human communication and you do feel the loss of that. - Steve Leyland

Many consumers are used to combining video with voice through the use of web cameras, and although a move to telepresence will involve the use of more advanced technology, they will already be familiar with the basic concept.

"Telepresence will absolutely move into the mainstream," says Hicks. "In 7-10 years most of the necessary functions will be on a chip in consumer set-top boxes, and the network intelligence will be there to support widespread use. By then, large HD displays, high-quality cameras and microphones, and surround sound will be commonplace, so home equipment should be no problem."

Hicks says that the sector could have a certain amount of immunity from the global economic downturn as companies look to make investments that will help them cut back on business travel. "Anecdotal evidence from vendors suggests that the recession is forcing companies to contract their ROI timeline from 18 months to 8-10. On the benefit side, reduced travel expenditure is obviously the primary factor, although increased productivity is harder to measure in the short term," he says.

Polycom's Leyland says he thinks people will eventually have a form of telepresence equipment in their homes. He adds that Polycom is working on some projects for governments in Europe for small business-based video services through the local carrier. "They are very interested to bring video to doctors' offices, elderly homes for patient care for that type of enterprise," he says.

"We will see the video becoming mainstream, a normal way of communicating. It's going to move into homes, more and more into enterprises and it is going to be a powerful tool," he adds.

"At Polycom, we communicate all the time with the video, and if we have to use a phone, it feels weird. When you don't have the picture of the person, technically you are missing 55% of the human communication and you do feel the loss of that. I think it will become mainstream. We have been using phones for 100 years. It's time for a change."

Unified communications

Cisco recently announced the launch of a new set of collaboration technologies, which it believes will help it tap into the US$34 billion market for collaboration solutions.

The launch includes over 40 products, including updates to key lines and new additions, for unified communications including video and Web 2.0 platforms.

In a video briefing with journalists, Cisco CEO and chairman John Chambers said the launch would usher in a "decade of productivity and a decade of innovation, in which people all around the world will be able to participate".

The launch includes the latest version of Cisco Unified Communications, version 7.0. The new version of Cisco's core collaboration software, Unified Communications 7.0 now includes compatibility with Windows Mobile to increase mobility usage. The company also plans to introduce integration with Apple iPhone within the next year.

Unified Communications also now includes full integration with leading Microsoft and IBM collaboration solutions, to enable customers to select best of breed solutions, and new solutions, plus enhancements for remote workers.

Telepresence set for "explosive growth"

Analysts from ABI research say that the entire telepresence market, which includes equipment, network services and managed services is set for a period of "explosive growth" over the next six years, with the market forecast to expand from a 2007 level of not quite US$126 million to nearly $2.5 billion in 2013.

"People thought Jimmy Stewart was crazy when he talked to his imaginary six-foot rabbit friend, Harvey," says ABI Research vice president Stan Schatt. "Now hundreds of senior executives are talking to virtual friends around the globe and no one is laughing anymore. The telepresence illusion is so real that many executives forget the person they're talking to is not really in the same room."

Desktop solutions

While telepresence might attract the most attention, vendors are also experiencing an increase in business for desktop video conferencing solutions, many of which are compatible with telepresence offerings.

Tandberg's Andy Sanctuary says he is seeing big growth in demand for desktop and regular video-conferencing applications for meeting rooms.

"We have only a handful of installations at the moment with the telepresence, with our Experia systems. Clearly we do expect that to change. We have had a lot of interest since the announcement of T3, the immersive telepresence proposition," he says.

Demand for Tandberg's video conferencing products has come from various sectors including oil and gas, finance, and government and education. Sanctuary adds that he has seen solid growth in some of the key oil and gas producing countries in the world, in particular in the Middle East, with Saudi Arabia showing a keen interest in the products.

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