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13 September 2010  
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Home - Cover Story - Article

Telepresence everywhere

The technology isn’t limited to huge displays and dedicated rooms—it can be deployed on the desktop, in existing conference rooms or board rooms and even at home, if you have the bandwidth for it. By Prashant L. Rao

In 2009, the worldwide market for telepresence and video conferencing equipment stood at about $2 billion (IDC, 2010). By 2014, the market is expected to more than double with the APAC region contributing 16% of this revenue.

“In India, we have seen a lot of success with wins in Tata Consultancy Services, Tata Teleservices, Tata Steel, GE India, Reliance World, Wipro Technologies, Maharishi University, ANZ IT and Accenture,” said Minhaj Zia, National Sales Manager, Cisco India & SAARC.

According to a 2010 Frost & Sullivan report, telepresence is expected to grow to a $4.7 billion market globally by 2015. The report cites the Asia-Pacific region as a major growth market for telepresence, with it expected to account for over a third of the market, i.e about $1.7 billion in revenues. That said, the overall collaboration market is a $34 billion dollar opportunity where voice is currently the largest application. “We believe that video will become the core of the collaboration market going forward, but it will require substantial innovation and investment to drive the market transition,”added Zia.

According to Neeraj Gill, Managing Director - India and SAARC, Polycom, Inc., “Telepresence has a high potential in India as the business solution for real time communication. This market is estimated to grow at a rapid CAGR of 53% and is estimated to reach $40 million by 2012.”

LifeSize cited a 2008 report from Frost & Sullivan wherein the analyst firm had calculated that the telepresence market was worth $4.5 million in 2008 and had projected a 22% Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) from 2008-2015. Zinnov Management Consulting had released a study back in 2008 estimating that the telepresence market in India would grow at a CAGR of 53% and reach $40 million by 2012. They estimated the telepresence market in 2008 to be $7.2 million.

Verizon Business also cited Zinnov Management Group data but Benjamin Green Unified Communications Practice Manager, Asia Pacific - Verizon Business, felt, “They slightly undersell the market in India; it’s a conservative estimate. We will see much more revenue coming from immersive telepresence in India.”

Who’s adopting the technology

“The adoption of this technology is happening across a wide sphere of verticals, outside of the traditional IT companies and MNCs. We are seeing increased adoption within government, education, healthcare and the SMB verticals,” commented Simon Claringbold, Vice President, Asia Pacific, LifeSize Communications.

Cisco’s take was that telepresence was finding a home in sectors such as IT/ITES, manufacturing, retail, BFSI and the government amongst others. “There is increased usage of telepresence solutions for interviewing candidates, interaction with relatives settled abroad, reviews and meetings, product launches and press conferences, in addition to business meetings. Among enterprises, there is continued adoption of telepresence solutions to facilitate communication between their knowledge workers and increase collaboration with their customers across the globe. Recently, we have seen traction from the SMB segment and have set up public telepresence rooms along with our service provider partners where organizations and individuals can use the facility on a pay-per-use basis,” added Zia.

Polycom felt that IT/ITES companies were among the early adopters and that the popularity of the offshore delivery model had resulted in telepresence technology enjoying popularity with technology vendors and ISPs. Education centers, the government, banks etc. were all taking to this technology.

Bandwidth required for telepresence
Telepresence systems from Cisco require a broadband connection of 4 Mbps per screen to ensure the desired quality of service levels. However, the system can operate at several different bandwidth levels ranging from 2 to 5 Mbps. The CTS 1300, launched in 2009, delivers telepresence using lower bandwidth connections.

According to LifeSize, telepresence systems make high demands on the network, with low-compression, three-screen, HD rooms taking anything from 8 Mbps to 45 Mbps of dedicated bandwidth for video and content. In contrast, the LifeSize Conference 200 telepresence solution requires only about 5 Mbps for 1080p video communication. LifeSize HD video conferencing solutions can deliver HD video at as little as 768 Kbps.

“Technology has advanced and CIOs recognize that HD is the way to go and customers who bought SD earlier are now looking to upgrade. It’s not just a question of technology. It’s a question of the fact that we have taken great strides in doing compression,” said Gill of Polycom, adding, “Today you can do 720p at 512 Kbps and 1020p in 1 Mbps. This used to require 2 Mbps. With HD available at such low bandwidths and bandwidth rates dropping substantially, there are huge OPEX savings to be had along with much better quality. We enable all of this in the endpoints and in the video infrastructure. You can do immersive telepresence with Polycom equipment on a 4.5 Mbps pipe.”

Cost of solution/RoI

Cisco provides everything from personal telepresence, CTS-500, to the 18 seater CTS-3200 solution. Higher end versions of the solution provide a fully immersive experience and require the design of a complete room where the solution is deployed, hence the cost would depend on the scale of the deployment and the amount of customization required. The list price of a CTS-500 solution is $33,900.

In a March 2009 study conducted by Crimson Consulting Group, global companies reported fast returns on investment (RoI) and transformed business processes from Cisco telepresence. Participants in the Cisco-commissioned study reported achieving breakeven in an average of 14 months, with some companies achieving breakeven within six months enabling one company to fund additional units solely from travel budget savings without tapping its IT budget.

LifeSize cited Gartner—according to the analyst firm the investment can range from $180,000 to $400,000 or more per endpoint meeting room, and an additional $8,000 to $18,000 per month for managed services and networking. The LifeSize Conference 200 telepresence solution retails for under $100,000. LifeSize’s other HD video conferencing solutions range in price from $2,499 for LifeSize Passport, its portable telepresence-quality system that can be used in offices or meeting rooms, to $16,999 for LifeSize Room 220, its solution for medium-sized conference rooms. Regarding RoI, LifeSize cited the case of its customer Virgin Mobile India that realized a RoI in just six months.

Usage patterns

"Recently, we have seen traction from the SMB segment and have set up public telepresence rooms along with our service provider partners where organizations and individuals can use the facility on a pay- per-use basis"

- Minhaj Zia,
National Sales Manager,
Cisco India & SAARC

"The government is extensively deploying immersive telepresence solutions at central ministries, state governments and defense organizations. Many of them are deploying high definition video conferencing and room-based telepresence systems as well"

- Neeraj Gill,
Managing Director - India and SAARC, Polycom, Inc.

Some customers have a mix of desktop, boardroom and telepresence. While some have only telepresence and others have only boardroom high-definition.

“Most of our customers have experienced some form of video conferencing. Most either go directly for immersive telepresence either on hire or on premises. Others look at upgrading their video conferencing to handle high definition and, in a parallel strategy, deploy telepresence as well. In the next 6-18 months the telepresence market in the end units and the core infrastructure will handle everything from a desktop, a home user, a boardroom—all the way up to the immersive room. In some countries and some areas, especially in remote areas of India, a 1080p 60 frames per second solution won’t get deployed because the bandwidth requirements are quite high and it won’t serve the purpose of earning a RoI,” said Green.

He defined telepresence as a set of technologies that allow the person to feel that they are present in a meeting. “It’s the next evolution of video conferencing. Based on the sophistication of the underlying infrastructure, the reach of Verizon’s MPLS and the quality of service, that shouldn’t restrict the person into feeling that they are not there regardless of the access device that they employ.”

Paul Newell, Senior Director, Unified Communications Strategy, Asia Pacific, Polycom, commented, “It comes down to experience from the desktop to room-based solutions. I work from home. I have what we call the Personal Executive desktop. You and I could be talking just like this over that. Is that telepresence? Telepresence is what the experience is. It’s not a one-size-fits-all.”

“Large enterprises have it all—different people have different needs within the organization. All this equipment is interoperable and based on open standards so you can talk outside our environment,” he added.

Gill added, “You could have a corporate office, regional office, branch office, executives’ homes—you take the need and buy a solution that fits it. From personal desktop-based telepresence units to fully immersive solutions—all of them are being bought by enterprises. If I have a fully immersive telepresence system at the corporate headquarters, I could then have an executive desktop unit sitting on somebody’s desk that should be capable of talking to the immersive telepresence system, to an executive boardroom or a conference room somewhere. Video conferencing is breaking the barriers of internal communication. People are talking about offering it to their suppliers, collaborators and partners and we have enabled that in India.”

He cited the example of a company that uses Polycom telepresence in its offices and has candidates walk into Reliance Webworld where video conferencing is deployed and interviews them over telepresence. “You should be able to share video across the boundaries of an organization,” he said.

Talking about the usage of telepresence in the government today, he cited Frost & Sullivan. According to the research & consulting firm, the government—not only in India but across the APAC in places like Australia and China as well—has been at the forefront of leading video conferencing deployments and actually using the technology. “If you look at India today, the government is extensively deploying immersive telepresence solutions at central ministries, state governments and defense organizations. A huge amount of them are deploying HD video conferencing, say, room-based telepresence systems as well. There is extensive use of video conferencing bridging equipment, infrastructure, management applications, recording and streaming services etc.,” said Gill.

“The government is pushing the boundaries of usage. They are one of the leaders, both in terms of deployment and when it comes to utilization. Service providers have been using telepresence—both internally and externally. Internally Reliance, Airtel etc are using the technology. BFSI has been one of the leading sectors when it comes to telepresence deployment. Almost every major Public Sector bank is using video conferencing fairly extensively. Personal telepresence, room-based telepresence, bridging infrastructure—all that is being used by banks,” stated Gill.

Customers in India
Cisco Thomson Reuters, Tata Teleservices, Bharti Airtel, Tata Steel, Wipro Technologies, ANZ IT, Accenture, Mahindra & Mahindra
LifeSize Tata Teleservices/Virgin Mobile India, Obeetee Private Ltd.
Polycom Bank of India, Reliance (Webworld and internally), Airtel (internally)

Plans for the future

LifeSize employs the H.264 standard and provides H.263 support for interoperability with all standards-based video communications systems. Along with its parent company, Logitech, it is a founding member of the Unified Communications Interoperability Forum (UCIF), a non-profit alliance that aims to enable standards-based, cross-vendor interoperability of UC hardware and software across enterprises, service providers and consumer clouds.

In 2010, Logitech is committed to bring HD video to anyone—consumers and businesses—anywhere, on any of the four connected screens (PC, TV, meeting room and smartphone). Under its LifeSize brand, Logitech will introduce new solutions, which will make video communications systems as pervasive as projectors in all meeting rooms.

Earlier this year, Verizon Business Interactive Video Exchange—an exchange service providing business to business connectivity on the telepresence network within the provider’s networks. If two companies deploy telepresence from Verizon Business, they can interconnect.

“We offer a private key ring point into our service provider. This will enable customers to seamlessly connect to other providers’ telepresence exchanges as well. We are working with the top global SPs to make those peer points,” said Green.

Newell commented, “The business-to-business exchange is an emerging area. It goes back to mobile phones before you had roaming and all that. Today, we’re at a point where you hardly notice that. We are going through that same evolution with video conferencing. It’s a work in progress. We are a founding member of the UC interoperability forum and the exchange is a big part of that. There are a lot of challenges. Service providers have challenges doing a business-to-business exchange in their own networks. That just gets exacerbated when it goes from service provider to service provider. We are working with others to form that exchange based on open standards. It's going to be an evolutionary process. You are talking about different IP addressing, security etc. Different players have their own view on how it should be and some are going to implement it one way, some another.”

Polycom is deepening its relationship with Microsoft. “For years we’ve had partnerships with them on integration on the video side working within OCS as an environment; we had phones specifically developed to work in a Microsoft environment. Last year we came out with the CX500 roundtable—that led to further discussions on 'how can we make the experience simpler?' We will come out with products to the market that are seamless,” added Newell.

Gill stated, “This wasn’t just a product-related agreement. It’s about joint go-to-market and sales. You will see it roll out at the theatre level down to the country level at Microsoft when we start putting joint efforts in these areas. This will fructify in the next quarter or the quarter after that. We expect 2011 to be a year where we partner with Microsoft a lot. Even today, we’ve started getting orders from customers who are looking to integrate all of our VC infrastructure into the Exchange back-end, Outlook and OCS. So far it was something that was talked about and a great idea; today it’s starting to happen.”



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