Online conference paints telepresence green

Saving the planet, as well as business travel costs?

A major hurdle telepresence faces is connecting businesses to other businesses that use different vendors' gear. Setting up such conferences remains complicated because each vendor uses its own mix of protocols, codecs, screen sizes and room layouts. There is little agreement about any one of these factors among the leading vendors, Cisco, HP, Polycom, Tandberg and Teliris, Wilcoxen says, although Teliris is making better progress than the others.

Vendor differences don't take into account the complexities of tying connections together across disparate carrier networks. Types of transport used and maintaining quality of service remains challenging, he says.

At the moment, BT connects sites only if they all use Cisco kit, although it is working to expand that to make business-to-business links as reliable as intracompany conferences.

Davis says it took six or seven years to achieve interoperability among audio-only teleconferencing, so he suspects it's going to be a while before similar interoperability is reached for telepresence.

"Plus the vendors will do it kicking and screaming," he says. They are trying to carve out business for themselves, and feel that interoperability will lessen their chances of landing customers.

Davis says his big expectation for this year is interoperability between telepresence equipment and legacy videoconferencing gear, so videoconferencing rooms can connect to telepresence rooms. That should encourage businesses that have invested in videoconferencing to buy into telepresence gear when they extend their video infrastructure.

Telepresence vendors are searching for particular business cases for which the technology is best suited, says Martin Bowman, managing solutions architect for Dimension Data, which installs telepresence systems. "We're trying to think of niches for telepresence. We're just on the cusp of discovering where it can fit in," he says.

He also outlines four factors that can influence the success of telepresence deployments. First is the deployment plan itself and that it leads to an efficient rollout. It should include an education plan so end users are aware of telepresence and that its use is encouraged if not mandated by top corporate executives.

Next, businesses should develop financial reporting mechanisms to track use of the gear and the savings it may generate in travel budgets. This can give bottom-line incentives for using the technology. In addition, businesses should create a separate travel/remote work budget that can isolate these expenses, he says.

Finally, businesses should not over-hype the conservation benefits of telepresence because if the carbon savings fall short, there will be a backlash among users that results in less use, Bowman says.

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Tim Greene

Tim Greene

Network World
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