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 Making your presence felt: A telepresence system at Cisco’s Bangalore office. The firm leads in market share. Hemant Mishra / Mint

Making your presence felt: A telepresence system at Cisco’s Bangalore office. The firm leads in market share. Hemant Mishra / Mint

Hewlett-Packard, Cisco eyeing consumer-level telepresence

Hewlett-Packard, Cisco eyeing consumer-level telepresence

Bangalore: After Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) made a splashy launch of its high-end video conferencing technology called Halo in 2005, and Cisco Systems Inc. swooped in with its own telepresence a year later, the two tech giants have competed intensely with each becoming a leader—one by revenue, the other by deployment.

Making your presence felt: A telepresence system at Cisco’s Bangalore office. The firm leads in market share. Hemant Mishra / Mint

The competition is set to get stiffer now. HP is test-piloting a new video conferencing tool called SkyRoom targeted at middle-range customers, a segment which couldn’t take to Halo’s steep pricing and veered to other vendors, including Cisco and Polycom. Amid this melange of offerings, Cisco says it has 67% of the global telepresence market share, with 2,300 rooms in at least 350 customers worldwide.

HP plans to launch SkyRoom before the year end, positioning it as a professional visual collaboration desktop tool “that’s as good as live", says Ross Camp, HP Halo senior marketing communications manager. Even before it is rolled out, SkyRoom has stoked the fire even though it is believed to be not real-time or life-size like telepresence.

Now Cisco says it is thinking of consumer telepresence too. “Within 12-18 months we will have presence in the consumer segment, where every high-definition television could become a TP (telepresence)," said Rajesh K.K., business development manager, telepresence, India-Saarc, at Cisco.

Pitting SkyRoom against the Halo or telepresence won’t be appropriate as the latter requires dedicated infrastructure, both physical and network; SkyRoom on the other hand will work on desktops with some prerequisites in processor power, a base level of memory (random access memory), adequate hard disk space and with standard broadband connection.

HP is targeting businesses—small, mid-sized or large—that have a need to collaborate across distances and different sites, says Camp. Devising a “comprehensive go-to-market plan" for the Indian market, which though small is growing at 100% according to the analyst firm Frost and Sullivan, HP is looking at definitive opportunities in industries such as digital content creation and mechanical design automation, among others.

Telepresence is going very strong in India, says Manish Dixit, research analyst, information and communication technologies practice, Frost and Sullivan, South Asia and West Asia. Moreover, the Asia-Pacific region is particularly poised to account for a third of the $4.7 billion (around Rs22,940 crore) in revenue globally by 2014, according to F&S. However, analysts think the Indian market, whose high growth rate owes to its small base, will stabilize to the global average growth rate of 40-50% within two-three years.

So far, HP doesn’t have flexibility in its offering. Customers have to buy the entire package of product and managed services; introducing a mid-level solution is mandatory for HP, says Dixit, adding that its high cost makes it a leader in revenue but a laggard in deployment. Cisco, on the other hand, not only offers a range of differentially priced telepresence suites but, through its alliance with Tata Communications Ltd, has been offering public telepresence in India and overseas, where an individual or a business entity can hire the telepresence room on an hourly basis. In one of the largest deployments in India, Tata Teleservices (Maharashtra) Ltd , said in March it ould roll out Cisco telepresence in five cities including Mumbai and Goa.

Analysts say managed services in itself is an attractive offshoot of telepresence. In a separate report, F&S has estimated that video conferencing managed the services market will grow at 16.4% to $375.5 million by 2014. Analysts expect some system integrators to emerge in this area. “Buying camera from one, LCD screen from another, and so on would lead to good business opportunities for system integrators," said Dixit.

HP ducked the question on why it trails Cisco in market share. It also declined to share and the number of units deployed, but added that it is growing and will have a footprint in 40 countries by the end of 2009. “In terms of customer adoption, the initial purchase rate for new customers has risen from an average of four rooms in 2007 to between 10-12 in 2009, with some purchasing as many as 30-40 at a time," said Camp. India continues to remain a growth country for Halo, he noted.

Video conferencing has been hailed as the tech industry’s tool to fight climate change. Analysts say “neck-and-neck competition between the two leaders" can only bring benefits to the users.

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