TelePresence almost as good as being in the same room

By Simon Hendery

While Cisco commissioned the Connected Consumer survey to gauge how broadband consumers are using the internet, the global technology equipment company's business also covers the corporate market.

One area where it sees strong growth potential is video communications, at home and in the workplace.

"We're highly focused around the whole notion of visual networking, and understanding the rich context a visual component adds to a conversation," says Cisco New Zealand country manager Geoff Lawrie.

This month Cisco installed one of its own top-of-the-line TelePresence corporate videoconferencing systems in its Auckland office. Fitted out in its specially designed boardroom, the TelePresence 3000 uses three 65-inch plasma screens to beam life-sized images of teleconference attendees around the world.

The quality of the visuals and audio lives up to Cisco's hype that the technology provides a face-to-face meeting experience which is almost as good as being in the same room.

When Connect sat in on a demonstration with Lawrie in Auckland last week, a Cisco staffer in the Melbourne TelePresence suite was able to point out to Lawrie he had a stray strand of cotton attached to his tie.

A TelePresence system costs about $300,000 and Lawrie says several sales to New Zealand organisations are in the pipeline.

"For New Zealand in particular I think this is hugely relevant in terms of connecting with markets, connecting with people and collaboration overseas."

He says many businesses would be able to justify the cost through travel savings alone.

"It's certainly a piece of technology we're finding resonates within the New Zealand market, even though it's a high-end system."

Telecommunications Users Association chief executive Ernie Newman, a self-confessed sceptic when it comes to technology demonstrations, was impressed by TelePresence's realism when he experienced the system for the first time this week.

"I look forward to the day when we have fibre everywhere in this country so we can utilise the potential of this stuff to the maximum," Newman wrote on his blog yesterday.

"I look forward to New Zealand becoming a leading edge user to eliminate our isolation and revolutionise our economy."

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