Why Telepresence is Different

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Irwin Lazar, Vice President & Service Director, Nemertes Research

November 8, 2006

2 Min Read

In an earlier post on Collaboration Loop, I noted that while demand for desktop video conferencing was weak, we were seeing significant interest in telepresence -- and seeing significant confusion.

Vendors of telepresence systems have a challenge on their hands – how to educate the market that telepresence is more than just prettier video conferences.  Unfortunately, one has to actually experience telepresence first hand to understand what makes it different than traditional room-based video conferencing systems.

Telepresence is about more than video, it is the creation of a virtual reality environment that makes conference participants feel like they are in the same room.  Telepresence systems are typically sold as entire rooms, complete with lighting, furniture, and acoustic details designed to reinforce this virtual reality environment.  It isn’t enough to implement a high-definition video conferencing system with a large monitor to achieve telepresence, rather systems are carefully designed to give conference participants the feeling that they can easily reach out and touch the person on the other side.

Telepresence isn’t without its drawbacks.  For starters, it can be expensive…scratch that…it can be EXTREMELY expensive.  Cisco’s recently introduced system can range from $79,000 for a one-panel system to $299,000 for a three screen solution (list prices).  HP Halo Collaboration Studio retails for $425,000 per room. And, that’s just for the solution.  Bandwidth costs required add additional fees (HP requires 53 Mbps between rooms, Cisco states a minimum of 4 Mbps per screen for 720p, or 9-12 Mbps for 1080p).  In addition, HP charges a monthly service fee as its offering is a hosted service.

The other drawback to telepresence is that it reflects a deviation away from distributed communications technologies to support increasingly virtual workers.  A home-worker won’t be able to participate in a telepresence session (well, technically they could, but the investment would be quite substantial). 

So why are companies interested in telepresence?  Simple economics.  If telepresence systems work as advertised, globally dispersed companies can see significant opportunity to reduce travel costs.  Remember, telepresence isn’t just beefed up video conferencing.  In a virtual reality environment, the users have essentially a similar feeling that they are in the same room.  Should latency not be an issue (and that is a big “should”), there should be minimal difference between participation in an in-person meeting and participating in a telepresence session.

Will those that are interested make the purchase?  That remains to be seen.

About the Author(s)

Irwin Lazar

Vice President & Service Director, Nemertes Research

Irwin Lazar is the Vice President and Service Director at Nemertes Research, where he manages research operations, develops and manages research projects, conducts and analyzes primary research, and advises numerous enterprise and vendor clients. Irwin is responsible for benchmarking the adoption and use of emerging technologies in areas including VOIP, UC, video conferencing, social computing, collaboration, contact center and customer engagement.

A Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) and sought-after speaker and author, Irwin is a blogger for No Jitter and frequent author for SearchUnifiedCommunications.com. He is a frequent resource for the business and trade press and is regular speaker at events such as Enterprise Connect and Interop. Irwin's earlier background was in IP network architecture, design and engineering.

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