Cisco demos public rooms for TelePresence

A room could cost US$299 per hour

Tata Communications expects to open 100 additional public telepresence rooms by the end of 2009, said Peter Quinlan, senior director of managed TelePresence for Tata Communications. Tata will work with a variety of hotels and companies, not exclusively with Taj Hotels, on the theory that more public TelePresence rooms will increase the value of all the others, he said.

David Gibbons, general manager of Taj Boston, said he can foresee wedding parties using the videoconferencing room to reach out to distant relatives who could not attend, as well as by businesses that do not have their own TelePresence room. The specially-fitted room is a converted hotel room on the eight floor.

As the global economy continues to slow, Gibbons said the number of hotel visitors is expected to fall off, and the TelePresence room should help provide added revenue. While the hotel industry has expected to support videoconferencing for a decade, earlier technologies were not based on high definition and did not provide the quality of experience hotel employees and guests wanted.

Elfrink said the slower economy will be a "big boost, actually" to Cisco's TelePresence businesses. Meanwhile, Tata Communications Chief Operating Officer Vinod Kumar said that with the economic downturn, "we see the need for stepping up" the provisioning of more public TelePresence rooms. "We will step on the pedal," he said.

Quinlan said that a big plus of the public spaces is that businesses can try out the experience without the upfront cost of building a room, which can range from US$350,000 to $500,000, including audio-visual equipment and special furnishings and lighting. In addition, the rooms might cost US$5,000 per month for 15 Mbit/sec network connections in the U.S. and up to $25,000 per month in some Asian countries.

An added incentive for a first-time user is that the Cisco technology will interoperate with videoconferencing systems from five other vendors, making it possible to reach branch offices already equipped with rival gear. The only requirement is the third-party technology rely on the H323 standard, officials said.

Nora Freedman, an analyst at IDC who saw yesterday's demonstration, said a number of vendors are selling high-definition videoconferencing systems, but apparently none are doing so in hotel rooms that are publicly available. "This is the real, live, public suite," she said.

Polycom and Tandberg and other vendors offer room-sized systems based on high-definition technology and had provided older room-sized systems available for public use. But none were used because they were in poor locations and hard to schedule for use.

Hewlett-Packard provides a high-definition room-sized telepresence technology called Halo and has announced public rooms, but none have been opened, Freedman said.

To use one of the new public rooms equipped with Cisco technology, users must set up an account online and reserve a room using a Web portal, phone, e-mail or fax, Cisco officials said.

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