TelePresence Is For Real
The VAR Guy made the trip from Long Island into Manhattan to see Cisco’s TelePresence technology in action today. The trip was worth the train ride.
It’s not fair to refer to TelePresence as video conferencing. TelePresence goes far beyond that. Cisco’s design creates a virtual boardroom setting. Imagine six executives seated in a New York office and another six executives seated in a London office. Three 65-inch plasma screens, digital sound systems and carefully placed cameras transform the two physical rooms into one virtual boardroom.
Skeptical? The VAR Guy was too, until he attended a live video link between New York and London earlier today. Seeing was believing. From his leather chair in New York, The VAR Guy felt as if he was seated across the table from his London counterparts. It was as if he could reach out and grab a bottle of water across the table–although the bottle was actually located across the big pond.
So, what are the pros and cons of TelePresence? On the upside, TelePresence allows participants to read attendees’ body language, make eye contact and truly interact with peers across the table — regardless of their physical location. Gone are the days of pan/tilt/zoom cameras and other annoying technologies that made remote communications impersonal. Fifteen minutes into a TelePresence session and you stop noticing the technology. Instead, you can focus fully on the conversation, meeting goals and action items.
Instead of slapping together third-party technology, Cisco took its time with Telepresence. Everything in the room — from the plasma screens to the microphones — carries Cisco’s logo. Even the boardroom furniture was designed by the TelePresence team. It’s as if Cisco studied Apple Computer and that company’s commitment to the total user experience.
Cisco rivals such as Polycom (maker of RealPresence Experience) offer similar technology. But it’s hard to compete with Cisco’s marketing muscle and channel. Roughly 110 Cisco offices will have Telepresence systems by this summer. Any CEO who sits in on a TelePresence demo will surely see its value.
Now, for the challenges. First, there’s the price tag. A high-end TelePresence system costs about $300,000–or about $600,000 for a solution that blankets two locations. To spark demand, Cisco will need to prove that TelePresence solutions can cut customers’ corporate travel expenses.
The second challenge involves back-end technology. A TelePresence session requires anywhere from 6Mbps to 15Mbps of dedicated bandwidth between locations. Some remote locations simply don’t have that type of bandwidth available–yet. Plus, customers will need a modern VoIP switching infrastructure to make everything work. The final challenge involves the install. Only about 14 Cisco partners are trained to install TelePresence solutions, although more partners are coming online rapidly.
Despite these challenges, seeing is believing. TelePresence holds great promise for VARs who master the technology.