High-End Virtual Meetings Equipment Supply Intensifies

In late October, Cisco Systems entered the fledgling telepresence market when it introduced its aptly named TelePresence line of bleeding-edge teleconferencing products. The technology giant joins New York-based Teleris Ltd.; Palo Alto, CA-based Hewlett-Packard; and Pleasanton, CA-based Polycom Corp. in this emerging, high-end virtual meetings market.

Telepresence systems are essentially extraordinarily advanced videoconferencing solutions that allow lifelike remote meetings. Life-size participants appear on large, high-definition screens with no delay between audio and visual transmissions. Voices can be heard simultaneously, rather than canceling each other out in traditional systems. Multiple cameras give participants the impression they are looking one another in the eye, and spatial audio technology creates the impression that individual voices originate from where the speakers are situated on the screen. These technological advancements are widely expected to allow telepresence to succeed where videoconferencing stalled.

These systems do not come cheap. Telepresence rooms, which are custom-built from the ground up, can cost as much as $450,000 to construct (before installation and monthly maintenance costs), while modular units, which can be incorporated into traditional rooms, can be purchased for about half that cost.

Still, the true-to-life experience via these systems is actually changing meeting management strategies, according to Teleris CEO Marc Trachtenberg. "Our customers have said that they now have more meetings per month than they ever would have if they had to fly the participants. It's changed their business and how it's run."

So far, corporations using telepresence systems include Nokia, Novartis, Yahoo, and PepsiCo, but the meetings implications will likely extend to organizations of all sizes. A recent report by Stamford, CT-based research firm Gartner Inc. predicts that telepresence will eventually be available at facilities such as conference centers, which would rent systems on a per-use basis to small companies.

Contact Suzie Amer at [email protected]

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