As I wrote in August, videoconferencing is winning fans among business executives, thanks to the ability to cut down on costly travel. Even pricey telepresence systems made by Cisco and HP, among others, are garnering increased interest -- at least they were before the financial mess made it tough for companies to get credit.
With everyone hunkering down for what looks like a long period of economic turmoil, few companies may be willing to invest in such systems, which range from $34,000 on the low end to $349,000. So Cisco is partnering with India's Tata Communications to install Cisco's TelePresence gear at hotels and other locations around the world.
The goal is 100 sites by the end of 2009. Cisco and Tata already have nine locations, including Boston, London, Santa Clara, Bangalore and New Delhi. HP earlier this year announced a partnership with Marriott International to put its competing Halo Technology at selected Marriott hotels. Unlike Cisco, HP hasn't yet announced locations for its telepresence suites.
According to MercuryNews.com, rental fees for Cisco's suites range from $299 to $899 an hour -- not cheap, but obviously far less than installing and maintaining a suite of one's own. Frost & Sullivan consultant Paul Waadevig says the move may help drive future sales, as it offers potential clients a chance to try out the technology, with at least some of them deciding to buy when times get better.
Cisco and Tata appear to be targeting mid-size companies and larger businesses that need to conduct meetings in cities where they do not have equipment installed.
For a fine roundup of the trends driving an increased interest in telepresence, read IT Business Edge blogger Carl Weinschenk's recap of a presentation at the recent Interop conference in New York. Among the drivers: a growing number of dispersed teams that need to communicate with each other; pressure to cut costs; employees increasingly resistant to business travel; the entry of high-profile vendors like Cisco; desire to be more "green" by reducing carbon emissions; and disgust with high fuel prices and scaled-back airline services.