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Cisco demos public rooms for telepresence

A room could cost $299 per hour

October 15, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - BOSTON -- Cisco Systems Inc. today announced the first telepresence videoconferencing rooms available for public use, demonstrating the technology simultaneously in four locations in India, the U.S. and the U.K.

Three of the four demonstration sites were retrofitted rooms in Taj Hotels in London, Bangalore, India and Boston.

The luxury hotel chain has decided to build the public videoconferencing rooms for business and guest use at rates starting at $400 an hour in the Boston location. Cisco said prices will vary from $299 to $899 an hour at various locations globally, depending on the number of users. The rooms can accommodate from one to 18 people.

Cisco has been selling four varieties of its TelePresence systems, including high-definition monitors, cameras and sound systems, to private organizations for two years. Many of those companies, including The Procter & Gamble Co., use telepresence technology to link up corporate headquarters with branch offices around the globe.

But the emergence of public telepresence rooms represents a new opportunity to expand the technology to a larger market, Cisco officials said. Just yesterday, Cisco CEO John Chambers predicted that videoconferencing will even be used on airplanes.

Wim Elfrink, Cisco's chief globalization officer, said having public telepresence rooms could help create new business models, including remote health care services that would make it possible for patients to visit with doctors remotely prior to making a long trip for treatment.

Elfrink, who spoke from Bangalore, said he conducts about 70% of his job interviews with telepresence tools. He has been using the technology for 18 months, including in his home in the Bangalore area. "The quality of telepresence is so good that I can look into your pupils and see sweat on the top of your head," he said.

Tata Communications Ltd. provided the networking technology to connect the hotels; it also provided the networking gear for Cisco's private telepresence setup at the fourth demonstration site, which is in Santa Clara, Calif. Tata and Taj Hotels are both part of the Tata Group conglomerate of 96 companies.

Public telepresence spaces are now open for business at Taj Hotels in Boston, London, Bangalore and Mumbai, and at Confederation of Indian Industry offices in Bangalore, New Delhi, Hyderabad and Chennai, India. The Pierre hotel in New York, another Taj property, plans to have a public telepresence room open next year.

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 the others, he said.

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