Rent video conferencing rooms by the hour

While there are 1,000 TelePresence deployments used within 200 companies and organizations worldwide, the public TelePresence rooms will extend “deep, media-rich experiences across corporate boundaries,” said Mark Weidick, Cisco’s vice-president of TelePresence exchange services, in a videoconference from Santa Clara, Calif.

TelePresence suites use high-definition cameras and monitors and matched furniture to create the illusion of a face-to-face meeting among users in geographically dispersed locations. While the suites have been used for intracompany meetings – Cisco itself has 300 suites and has 3,000 internal TelePresence meetings a day – the public suites will use a cloud application called an exchange to allow TelePresence meetings between companies or between public and private suites, Weidick said.

The public suites – currently in Taj Hotels (part of the Tata Sons empire that includes Tata Communications) and meeting rooms in Boston, London, and Bangalore, Mumbai and Chennai, India – will be charged on an hourly basis, allowing users who can’t justify the $300,000-plus investment in a TelePresence suite to conduct high-definition video meeting for about $500 per suite per hour, depending on bandwidth and location costs, according to Peter Quinlan, director of managed TelePresence services with Tata Communications.

The companies plan to have 100 public suites available by the end of next year.

For businesses, the suites extend TelePresence to branch offices or business whose use of TelePresence would be too intermittent to justify building an in-house suite, Quinlan said.

“That dramatically increases the value of the private rooms that companies have implemented,” Quinlan said.

The ability to reach more end-points will allow companies to save money on travel for, for example, quarterly reviews or accelerating a sales cycle with “face-to-face” meetings with client executives, Quinlan said. “That kind of interaction can take months to set up,” Quinlan said.

There are social and environmental benefits as well, Quinlan said. Fewer miles in the air means a smaller carbon footprint for the user company. And, he said., the suites “greatly expand the capability of keeping in touch with loved ones on the road” or allow business people to avoid traveling and being separated from their families altogether, he said. David Martella, vice-president of retail TelePresence services for Cisco, said the business use savings aren’t simply in airfare.

“It’s not just the cost and it’s not just the time,” Martella said. There’s also the frustration of security and check-in queues at the airport and the costs of cabs and overnight stays. Thought there will only be 100 worldwide by the end of 2009, he said, “I’ll travel a couple of hours (by car) to avoid a flight,” he said.

And, in fact, two Cisco locations in London and its suburbs burn up a lot of TelePresence bandwidth simply to avoid traffic congestion in the British capital, Martella said. “The utilization there is among the top pairs” of TelePresence connections, he said.

While he wouldn’t attach a firm number, Nartella said he expects “thousands” of public TelePresence suites worldwide in the long-term.

While Tata and Taj Hotels will have a first-to-market advantage with the first planned 100 suites, they won’t be Cisco’s only partners in public TelePresence, Weidick said.

“We are a partner enabler in the suites ecosystem,” he said. “We’ll work with other partners under similar business models.”

And Tata and Taj Hotels are under no illusions of exclusivity, Quinlan said. “We’re both quite pragmatic,” Quinlan said. The more rooms in the ecosystems, the more utility, he said, citing Metcalfe’s Law: The value of a network is proportional to the square of the number of nodes on that network.

There are a wide variety of businesses whose business models would support a public TelePresence suites, Quinlan said, including “dual-use models” – companies who can’t justify a TelePresence suite solely for internal use, but can if it’s subsidized by renters.

He said Tata is actively pursuing other hotel chains and property managers, and working with carrier partners to set up their own public suites, in order to quickly expand the TelePresence footprint “as dramatically as possible,” Quinlan said.