Telepresence: Communications Redefined

Telepresence: Communications Redefined

The solution is fast emerging as an effective, reliable and economic alternative to stereo-type videoconferencing systems to boost businesses

Imagine a situation wherein a high level ministerial meeting involving policy makers and others from different places is going on and suddenly a few of them leave the session midway to attend some emergent situation in their respective states leaving the meeting abandoned.

This abrupt disruption of the meeting could have been avoided and its organising cost reduced and unwarranted travel of some of the participants could be checked had the conference banked upon Telepresence technology.

An effective, swift, reliable and economical communications system is a key to businesses in today's dynamic environment particularly in the government domain. And here it is the Telepresence solution, which stands tall to address all - that a communication system demands.

To address this need companies including Cisco are working on new technologies that deliver unique, "in-person" experience over the converged network.

Cisco has launched "Cisco TelePresence" solution that deliver real-time, face-to-face interactions between people and places in their work and personal lives, using advanced visual, audio, and collaboration technologies.

In some cases, these products use a room-within-a-room environment along with life-size images, and high-definition resolution with spatial and discrete audio to create a live, face-to-face meeting around a single "virtual" table. These systems use the standard IP technology deployed in corporations today, and run on an integrated voice/video/data network.

Such systems support high-quality, real-time voice and video communications with branch offices using broadband connections. They also offer capabilities for ensuring quality of service (QoS), security, reliability, and high availability for high-bandwidth applications such as video, particularly high definition video, which can require 1Mbps to 5 Mbps, depending upon the resolution.

It comes in configurations that range from a single screen to a three-screen setup with two rows of seats and the prices ranges from $34,900 to $349,000.

It is also a major focus for Cisco, which uses about 362 Cisco TelePresence systems internally, slashing travel expenses and boosting collaboration among employees. Till date 45,401 meetings in Cisco have avoided travel just because of using Cisco TelePresence.

Telepresence Vs Video Conferencing
The latest versions of Telepresence technologies are outshining the previous videoconferencing model of communication technology. Though both techniques fulfil similar needs, Telepresence scores over video conferencing as far as level of closeness it brings during conferencing is concerned.

Telepresence technologies are getting preference over video conferencing techniques in many global companies and organisations. They are increasingly adopting it as a strategy to reduce operational cost by eliminating business travelling expenses and other costs.

Unlike traditional video conferencing, Cisco TelePresence is a new, innovative solution that delivers a face-to-face experience. Paired with Webex, the Telepresence solution delivers a full collaboration suite integrating video, audio, document and file sharing services.

Cisco is a leader in enterprise communications solutions with a comprehensive Unified Communications System of converged voice, video, data and mobility products and applications.

Cisco TelePresence builds upon this innovation and leadership, revolutionising remote meetings by using intelligent network services to connect co-workers, customers, and partners over a global IP network.

Wainhouse Research study finds that typical usage rates of Telepresence are 77.4 hours per month compared to 10 hours for video conferencing. Cisco is of the view that the new platform will help enable people to connect, communicate and collaborate from any application, device and workspace.

Initiatives in India
Recently, Tata Communications has tied up with Cisco, the Taj Group of Hotels and the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII), to set up public Cisco TelePresence rooms. The Cisco TelePresence solution at CII costs Rs 16,000 per hour while the Cisco TelePresence solution in Taj costs Rs 20,000 per hour.

To popularise Telepresence, Cisco Capital has also launched its zero percent progress payment (PP) program. In this program when a customer chooses to finance Cisco 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 realised.

Even today in the time of video conferencing, face-to-face meetings are preferred. Especially for key negotiations, interviews, review meetings and conferences corporate can opt for Telepresence.

To address this concern, Telepresence replicates an actual physical meeting between different parties in a virtual room to a level of unreal perfection. A successful Telepresence experience offers more than just a successful video connection.

The environment creates a reasonable illusion that the remote participants are in the same room. The systems strive to make the technology invisible to the user: microphones, speakers and cameras are hidden from the users view.

Another important part of the meeting environment is created with room lighting and acoustics. These factors are necessary, as business talks should take place in an environment, which is as formal as possible.

Setting up Telepresence solutions is as simple as pressing a single button. It typically includes no user-configurable settings such as call speed, camera pan-tilt-zoom or intimidating hand-held remotes to confuse users.

The Government of Australia has installed Telepresence in 20 locations across the country and plans to save much more in air fares and lost working time for improving public performance. Even the US Consulates have been actively using it for their face to face meeting.

Green Mantra
Nowadays everyone is concerned about green initiatives and reducing carbon footprints. Telepresence can reduce the need for travel thus contributing to governments green initiatives.

Cisco strongly propagates virtual meetings in place of physical travel as it will enable significant reduction in travel related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. On their part they have reduced travel related GHG emissions by more than 20 per cent by just using their own Cisco TelePresence solution.

Way forward
A challenge faced in India by the Telepresence solutions is the lack of high quality bandwidth. In India, bandwidth is still not universally available, and performance gaps in services are often glaring.

But in the government domain this is a non-issue because of State Wide Area Network (SWAN). The SWAN is already in place in 8 states (Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Tamil Nadu, Delhi, Tripura, Punjab, Chandigarh and Karnataka) and other states will have their SWAN network ready in a couple of months. So, bandwidth would not be an issue.

The exceptional growth of Telepresence deployments around the globe during 2008 and 2009 is evidence to the strong user experience provided by these integrated visual collaboration solutions. In addition, while the current economic scenario has negatively impacted IT-related spending, it has fuelled interest in Telepresence.

In today's environment, decision makers in government domain are recognising that improving speed to decision making and improving employee productivity in a cost-effective manner are the need of the hour. To accomplish this need what can be better than Telepresence!

By Sandeep Budki,