Telepresence finally makes its presence felt

Telepresence has finally and most definitely arrived and - despite its apparent higher price - is proving its ability to serve companies' more demanding communications needs. In addition to replacing the types of executive business meetings for which travel was long regarded as essential, telepresence is now also making a wider impact within organisations, to facilitate project meetings and help foster a closer team spirit between distantly located workers.


New analysis from Frost & Sullivan Telepresence Global Markets, finds that the markets generated revenues of US$165.3 million (€116.7 million) in 2007 and estimates this to reach US$1.44 billion (€1.017 billion) in 2013.


While telepresence has been around for a number of years, it is only in the last two that it has made a major impact. It has re-wakened C-level executives to the massive potential of visual communications to provide real answers to several key issues facing organisations today.


Telepresence is not a technology, but rather a tightly linked solution of systems and services, which, when delivered properly, can provide companies with a highly reliable, consistent and usable communications capability.


Faced with spiralling travel costs and demands from stakeholders to reduce the environmental impact of their business operations, organisations are now again evaluating telepresence and video conferencing as viable and cheaper solutions.


Specialist companies such as Teliris have, since 2001, created a niche market at the top end of the visual communications spectrum - delivering telepresence rooms and supporting services on a global basis. However, only since the market debuts of Cisco Systems and HP in 2006 has telepresence burst into the mainstream, with many corporations now viewing it as a realistic alternative to business travel, with return on investment (ROI) values that justify the high price tag.


However, telepresence is a complex solution, consisting of critical technology systems and service components that require vendors to work closely with network services providers and systems integrators to deliver consistently.


While a number of vendors are capable of providing customers with a "˜one-stop shop', others are building key alliances to create the complete solution. The ability of the telepresence market to grow will depend on the quality of these partnerships, and the consistency with which solutions are delivered.


Telepresence has established a reputation for delivering a quality, productive user experience there is a real danger that over-use or possible misuse of the telepresence "˜brand' will lead to its devaluation.


It is possible that a global economic downturn will have an adverse impact on the potential of telepresence to continue growing at its present strong rate.


Customers who are forced to make capital spending cuts may simply defer these buying decisions, or opt for the cheaper HD video conferencing products now coming into the market.


Equally, companies may see in telepresence an opportunity to create additional agility within their organisations, reducing travel costs, and re-engineering productivity to position themselves for the upturn.


Eventually, "˜out-of-the-box' HD video conferencing products will approach the capabilities delivered by the multi-screen, immersive telepresence solutions. This will create further opportunities for service providers and systems integrators to create new telepresence offerings, particularly around the needs of specific vertical sectors and business applications.


Dominic Dodd, principal analyst, Frost & Sullivan