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The Ferrari of videoconferencing

October 25, 2007 | Chris Payatagool

BenWardak.gifIf necessity really were the mother of invention, enterprises and small businesses would by now have highly functional, standardized videoconferencing and collaboration technology at their disposal. Instead, travel across the continent and around the world remains the dominant collaboration paradigm, despite the ever-increasing pressure of time-consuming security requirements and budget-killing airfare and hotel prices.

Back in the 1960s, the old AT&T's Western Electric Group demonstrated its Picturephone to a doubting world, and the world has remained doubtful ever since. That's because videoconferencing systemsdeveloped since then have remained expensive and unpredictable, gadgets that usually delivered small, fuzzy, herky-jerky video images, often uncoordinated with people's voices because of communications latency and unreliability.

When the Internet came along, there was hope that Web conferencing might fill the void, even though it lacks the collaborative impact of video images, relying solely on shared documents, especially presentations. Web conferencing has not been very satisfactory, requiring reserved bandwidth, separate telephone hookups for sound and notoriously troublesome desktop technologies.

Of course, good old-fashioned telephone conference calls are reliable and useful, but they just don't cut it with people who want to do business face to face.

With all that history, it's hard not to be skeptical when news comes along of "telepresence" systems, video-collaboration technology that delivers high-definition video images and stereophonic sounds with enough realism to enable useful collaboration to occur.

Telepresence is expensive, requires two or more dedicated conference rooms outfitted with specialized equipment (or in some cases, custom-built to house the equipment) and often runs on proprietary network technology. But it's such a vast improvement over any previous video-based collaboration system that enterprise users are quickly signing up.

"It is important to point-out that Telepresence means taking Videoconferencing to the next frontier. More than a decade after the first videoconferencing-based telepresence solution was introduced to the public, and after more than ten years of languishing in the backwaters of the communications market, telepresence hit the limelight in 2006," says Beau Wardak, GM, Middle East for TANDBERG.


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