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Telepresence: Ready for its close-up

MANY VENDORS, MANY OPTIONS

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Cisco has been a large part of the reason telepresence has garnered attention, based on its brand and marketing prowess. To avoid stepping on its service provider customers' toes, Cisco has opted not to build a managed service, relying instead on deals with network operators and MSPs. Analysts agree that Cisco needs to expand its product line to reach beyond the C-level of most corporations.

HP worked with Dreamworks to create Halo after the Sept. 11 attacks as a way for filmmakers to avoid travel. HP launched Halo as a fully managed service in 2005. HP owns its own network, which means Halo customers can interconnect with each other for business-to-business applications. Halo is arguably the most expensive among the telepresence solutions, but analysts say it provides one of the best experiences.

Polycom bought telepresence technology in 2005 with its acquisition of Destiny Conferencing. The RPX product line is unique in that it is a pre-fabricated room complete with screens, furniture, lighting, walls, floor and ceiling — all installed in an existing conference space. In addition to the telepresence product line, the company offers a wide range of HD and SD conferencing solutions down to the desktop. Polycom's go-to-market strategy is to work with a wide range of resellers and service providers. Its alliance with Nortel helps it compete head to head with Cisco.

Tandberg, like Polycom, has a history as a videoconferencing vendor. The company's MXP product line provides comparable HD videoconferencing at a much lower price than telepresence systems. Tandberg also focuses heavily on standards so that its equipment can interoperate with other standards-based gear. Tandberg is even working with rival HP to make its Halo solution interoperate with traditional video systems.

LifeSize was founded by former Polycom executives and now is moving up-market with its telepresence offering. The company is trying to deliver a customizable, lower-cost solution, which is why it does not include furniture or screens with the system. LifeSize also manufactures its own codec, which makes its approach less expensive. Analysts like the company's product and its minimalist approach because it offers an alternative for businesses that can't afford pricey telepresence suites. But they caution that the overall experience can vary widely without strict design guidelines.

Telanetix, like LifeSize, offers a lower-cost solution. Its gear uses the company's own software-based codecs, which help keep costs down. It also offers a telepresence kit for $45,000 that does not include screens. As with LifeSize, analysts like Telanetix's “roll-your-own” approach, but worry about the quality of experience.

Teliris, which launched its service back in 2001, is a telepresence veteran. Like HP, it provides a fully managed service over a privately owned network. Analysts say the Teliris experience is good because camera positioning provides approximation of eye contact. The company also gets high marks for the way it interconnects multiple sites in a conference. The biggest challenge for Teliris lies in getting noticed while bigger competitors pull out the stops to make sure they own the market.
Dawn Bushaus

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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