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4/20/2010
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Videoconferencing Booming During Flight Ban

Travelers stranded by the Icelandic volcano are using telepresence and videoconferencing to stay in contact with their businesses.

The fallout from Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano may represent misery for stranded air travelers, but the ash cloud that has cancelled so many flights has been a boon to telepresence and videoconferencing operations that have come to the rescue of businesses seeking to maintain continuity.

Regus, which operates a worldwide network of offices and meeting rooms, reported that stranded business travelers began flocking to its videoconferencing rooms shortly after flights in Europe were cancelled last week. The company said demand in the United Kingdom jumped 38% shortly after flights were cancelled last week. Soon demand for its videoconferencing jumped 108% as aviation officials forbade most planes from taking off.

The demand spread to the United States. "Regus has seen a 75% increase in video communication bookings in the U.S. in the last four days," said Regus CEO Guillermo Rotman in an e-mail Tuesday.

Regus, which has a large supply of Polycom videoconferencing equipment in its 2,500 studios across the world, said business has been particularly strong in its more than 150 U.K. studios. A Regus spokesman said "facilities in Aberdeen, Manchester, Edinburgh, as well as Gatwick and Heathrow received the highest demand as stranded travelers sought methods to maintain 'business as usual.'" Regus noted that it is the world's largest provider of video communications facilities.

Meanwhile, the Human Productivity Lab, an organization that advises corporations on telepresence and visual collaboration, said the ban on flights should act as a warning to companies to update their disaster recovery programs. "Telepresence," the Lab said in a release, "gives organizations the ability to do business -- intra and inter-company -- without physical travel no matter what the contingency."

Other videoconferencing companies, large and small, are working overtime supplying services to stranded travelers, many of whom are using videoconferencing services for the first time.

Cisco has also seen a surge of usage in its demo rooms. Fredrick Halvorsen, head of Cisco's telepresence technology group, said there has been a huge spike in traffic because of the disruption of business travel. Halvorsen moved to Cisco recently when the networking firm acquired telepresence and videoconferencing provider Tandberg for $3.3 billion.

Tata Communications has found that its telepresence public rooms are keeping busy worldwide because many business travelers trapped in Europe need to communicate with offices scattered around the world. In addition Tata itself is using its video gear more than it normally would.

"Telepresence and other collaboration technologies are helping Tata Communications continue its business operations unhindered and we are confident it will help other businesses, too," said Peter Quinlin, a specialist at Tata's managed telepresence services, in an e-mail. "Disruption to travel need not mean a disruption to business."

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