Cost and awareness hinder telepresence in Asia

The Asia-Pacific market may be ripe for telepresence, but the price of the technology continues to hinder adoption, industry players say.

Telepresence has been touted as the answer to better quality video conferencing, but its seemingly high cost and low market awareness pose barriers to adoption.

Telepresence setups are often high-cost implementations because of the cost of high-definition displays and additional peripheral costs such as the broadband infrastructure needed to support the amount of data from a typical conference session.

Shalini Verma, senior market analyst at IDC Asia-Pacific told ZDNet Asia in an interview that although large markets exist in the region for telepresence, "cost of implementation and maintenance is a barrier, along with broadband cost, which in some countries is very high."

Said Verma: "Markets such as Australia, New Zealand and China are large markets for video conferencing and will lead the adoption of telepresence, though at this stage we have not seen any major momentum."

Resistance to change may also present a barrier. "Cultural pre-conditioning [in the office] which necessitates face-to-face meetings will be a significant barrier," Verma said.

Tying it into a revenue-generating process may help convince management to sign off on a telepresence purchase. "Enterprises can justify the cost if it aids their sales process and they begin to see returns on investment," said Verma.

Jay Kim, business manager for Hewlett-Packard Asia-Pacific and Japan's telepresence solution dubbed Halo, acknowledges that price is the main barrier.

"That's something they notice right away," said Kim, on customers' reactions when presented with the product.

"However, customers who have used Halo for more than six months do tend to order more studios," added Kim, who claimed there are some 120 Halo studios deployed worldwide.

Kim sees "great potential" in the market, in spite of the price. "People would rather stay up in the middle of the night and do a Halo session than fly to the United States and come back. Technology is finally at the point where it's surpassed previous barriers like low quality of video conferences," said Kim.

Regional broadband traffic, which isincreasingly intra-Asian where more traffic is flowing within, rather than between the West and Asia as it has traditionally been, is helping to propel telepresence sales. Kim claimed that many companies headquartered in Asia are interested in the system, particularly for use with other offices within the region as they expand.

Rival Polycom also claims to have received interest from companies in the region for its RPX line of telepresence products. Chris Marshall, Polycom RPX business development manager, Asia-Pacific, said: "Major metropolitan areas around Asia are linking up, but [so are] remote sites in hard-to-reach regions because of the difficulty in traveling there."

The pressure to compete globally and be connected to Western offices is also a motivator for Asian offices, added Marshall.

Peter Bocquet, Cisco's TelePresence business development manager for Asia-Pacific, said that while early adopters tended to be multinational corporations, the company is "seeing significant interest from many local organizations".

"These companies range from manufacturing companies to local government entities, such as the Xiamen Municipal Government in China. ANZ Bank is another example of a financial institution utilizing telepresence to bring together its operations in Bangalore, India and Melbourne.

"The common factor amongst these organizations is that all of them have dispersed teams of employees, as well as customers in diverse locations," said Bocquet.

Awareness still low
High-end telepresence systems are not exactly new; they were introduced some two years ago, but the vendors say that more can be done to demonstrate the solutions to users.

"Awareness is an issue," said HP's Kim. "As more find out about [it], people will be able to make [the decision to purchase a system] easily and quickly."

Cisco's Bocquet said that many customers are unaware of the improvements of the high-end systems over traditional videoconferencing. "The main challenge we have faced is overcoming the perception that TelePresence is no different from videoconferencing, where many have had less than satisfactory experiences with [the latter's] video and audio quality."

Another competitor, Tandberg, has seen a wave of requests for its product, Experia. Said Lars Ronning, Tandberg Asia-Pacific president: "In spite of Experia being launched less than 12 months ago, it has gained positive traction in this space, with new customers in Japan and South Korea signing on."

Tandberg hopes demo rooms around the region--in Sydney, Hong Kong and Singapore--will help raise awareness, too. "These facilities have been set up in anticipation of a positive growth for telepresence solutions in 2008," said Ronning.

Polycom's Marshall agreed: "The number of requests for demonstrations continues to grow dramatically because the secret is out about telepresence."