Telepresence - a kind of video conference providing the sensation that all participants are actually in the same room - is set for explosive growth. The whole market, which includes telepresence equipment, network services and managed services, is forecast to grow from a 2007 level of not quite $126 million to nearly $2.5 billion in 2013, according to ABI Research.
'People thought Jimmy Stewart was crazy when he talked to his imaginary six-foot rabbit friend, Harvey,' said ABI Research vice president Stan Schatt. 'Now hundreds of senior executives are talking to virtual friends around the globe and no one is laughing anymore. The telepresence illusion is so real that many executives forget the person they're talking to is not really in the same room.'
Such realism is accomplished via high-definition, life-size video, tightly lip-synched directional audio, coordinated dÃ©cor, and special technologies enabling eye-contact between participants. And it typically requires only a single mouse-click to start a session.
What would induce companies to spend up to $330,000 for a telepresence setup‾ The high cost of travel - in money, wasted time, and carbon emissions - is one reason. Key executives can be far more productive if they can effectively meet with several companies around the world in the time it would take to make one trip. The need for time-sensitive collaboration and the demands of worldwide outsourcing also build a case for telepresence.
Not that such outlays are inevitable. Many telepresence operations are handled as managed services. And less expensive 'executive' systems designed for one or two people mean that telepresence technology is now migrating down to middle managers, expanding the market.