Downturn makes telepresence popular

The technology enables companies in India that adopt it to reduce costs, enhance collaboration and speed up decision-making efforts.
Written by Swati Prasad, Contributor

INDIA--Teleconference is getting a boost during the current downturn as players in this nascent field are setting up public telepresence rooms and offering innovative finance options in an effort to grow the market.

Minhaj Zia, national sales manager, Cisco India and SAARC, said: "With the slowdown hitting businesses worldwide, there is growing demand for telepresence since it can help cut costs on travel."

Cisco, internally, has 362 telepresence rooms across the world.

"So far, there have been 240,309 meetings, of which 45,401 meetings avoided travel, saving Cisco US$182 million," Zia said in an e-mail interview.

Anshul Dhingra, senior marketing manager, Polycom India and SAARC, said the telepresence market in India has witnessed consistent growth.

"This growth can be attributed to stronger IT spending on the back of sturdy economic growth huge returns on investments noted by the corporate sector," Dhingra told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail interview.


Telepresence is a conference system that uses high-quality video and audio to create a two-way immersive communications experience that simulates an in-person, interactive encounter. In fact, many elements embedded in "traditional" videoconferencing systems, such as self-view and moving cameras, are intentionally avoided to create the "sitting across the same table" illusion.

According to a recent Frost & Sullivan report, the telepresence market was reported to be US$3.2 million in 2009. And India, which garnered the fifth position in the Asia-Pacific region, is anticipated to witness a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 42.6 percent, further increasing the country's share in the region from 9.4 percent in 2007 to 13.9 percent by 2014.

Healthcare, IT among early adopters
Zia said: "With India becoming a key component of the global technology industry, telepresence has found tremendous acceptance among technology companies."

In addition to tech firms, multinational corporations and other companies with global interests are also investing in telepresence systems "to aid collaboration and to speed up decision making".

Dhingra said: "Apart from the early adopters of technology like the IT-ITES, verticals like government, healthcare and education are realizing the vast benefits offered by telepresence."

Polycom has supported a number of hospitals, including Escorts, Narayana Hryudayalaya and Apollo, for their telemedicine ventures. Apollo has installed Polycom products in more than 60 of its telemedicine centers.

"Polycom's telepresence solutions have enabled the integration of live tests and advice by the health practitioner," Dhingra said.

Cisco too sees tremendous scope in healthcare.

Zia said: "Globally, health systems face the challenge of meeting increasing demand for services. Shortages of trained personnel and specialists, combined with aging populations, result in ever-increasing health delivery costs that far outpace GDP (gross domestic product) for many countries."

Cisco's product for the sector--HealthPresence--provides an alternative means of delivering services that optimize healthcare resources, while making access easier for patients.

However, one of the biggest challenges before the growth of telepresence has been the prohibitive acquisition costs. The entire system could cost anywhere between US$34,900 and US$349,000.

Ravi Shekhar Pandey, manager, syndicated research at Springboard Research, said: "Telepresence is at a nascent stage."

Although companies are cutting down travel costs due to recession by adopting collaborative communication techniques, they are not necessarily going in for telepresence, Pandey told ZDNet Asia in a phone interview.

"Tools like instant messenger (IM) and video conferencing often serve the purpose. And they don't cost a thing," Pandey said. Besides, there is low awareness of the technology among CIOs in the Asia-Pacific region, he highlighted.

Concurred Sanish K. B., research analyst, Gartner: "The telepresence market in India is at its infancy and vendors are competing to grab a leading market share."

According to a Frost & Sullivan report, telepresence offerings are primarily being used for corporate meetings and for recruitment by the HR executives.

Sanish said: "As the technology gains momentum, other applications, such as training and research, demonstration of products and services, et cetera, shall increase the adoption of telepresence solutions."

Working around costs
Peter Quinlan, director, telepresence managed services, Tata Communications, said: "Companies that are keen on adopting the telepresence technology through building their own rooms often find cost a big inhibitor." This is especially true in the case of economic downturns, when the accent is on optimal use of resources.

To promote telepresence, Tata Communications has tied up with Cisco, The Taj Group of Hotels and the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), to set up public telepresence rooms. The CII rooms cost US$310 (INR 16,000) per hour while a telepresence room at the Taj costs US$388 (INR 20,000) per hour.

Zia said: "With the arrival of public rooms, individuals now have the flexibility to pay on an hourly basis to avail these services and evade the huge investment cost involved in telepresence."

Since October 2008, Tata Communications has opened eight such rooms--six in India (in Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad and Gurgaon) and two overseas (in London and Boston).

Quinlan told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail interview: "We have seen pick up in interest with every additional room we add to our public room network."

To popularize telepresence, Cisco Capital announced the launch of its zero percent progress payment (PP) program.

Zia said: "When a customer chooses to finance telepresence under the PP program, the customer makes no payments and pays no interest for a period of up to 120 days while the solution is being deployed. This allows the customer to conserve cash and to pay for the solution upon deployment, when the cost saving benefits can be realized."

"A challenge faced in India by the telepresence industry is the lack of high bandwidth. In India, bandwidth is still not universally available, and performance gaps in services are often glaring," Zia said.

Sanish is of the view that the current recession is set to drive uptake of telepresence in the next three years. Gartner analysts predict that high-definition based video meeting products will replace 2.1 million airline seats annually, costing the travel and hospitality industry US$3.5 billion per year.

"More companies in India will adopt telepresence solutions to connect their multiple offices or remote manufacturing plants or R&D centers," Sanish said.

Swati Prasad is a freelance IT writer based in India.

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