Video conferencing: at last a good alternative to travel?

Video conferencing has been around for a surprisingly long time. AT&T ran the first call in 1927. Since then, pundits have been consistently predicting that video conferencing was just about to take off. They have been wrong for eighty years. Why should we believe the techno-optimists now?

In the last year, several companies have launched video conferencing products that provide an experience similar to real meetings. The quality is surprising and even sceptics have begun to see the advantages of using a meeting room for an hour rather than spending three days going to Hong Kong and back. Cisco’s Telepresence product is generating enthusiasm that is tempered by the enormous costs of setting up the equipment and providing the bandwidth. But the company says that prices will fall dramatically over the next few years.

Is this going to be enough to get people out of planes? The signs are good. Even low bandwidth alternatives suitable for home use are getting praise from the experts. So if Cisco doesn’t make video conferencing work, Bay Area start-ups like VSee will probably start eating into the market for lower cost products.

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