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VOL. 115 | NO. 160 | Wednesday, September 26, 2001

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Local videoconferencing market seeing more interest along with national trend

Local businesses now opting to travel via video


The Daily News

While the travel industry was trying to bear a sluggish market earlier this year, it is now roaring for help following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

People are either afraid to fly or hampered by the extra time needed to check in at airports because of heightened security.

Arriving at the airport one hour before takeoff has turned into two or more and connections eat even further into travel time.

Many businesses are turning to videoconferencing as a viable way to conduct business, cutting down on travel, and increasing efficiencies.

Memphis area videoconferencing companies are benefiting from this recent trend, fielding a surge of inquiries after the Sept. 11 attacks.

Last week, Interactive Solutions Inc., on Forest Hill Irene Road saw a big increase in business.

We probably had a dozen inquiries in putting equipment in last week. I havent had that in the11 years Ive been in the industry, said Jay Myers, president and chief executive officer of ISI.

Myers added, however, that videoconferencing companies have been promoting working with the technology for years and the industry has seen strong growth, despite recent events.

Fear is a wrong stimulus, he said.

Weve been doing this a long time. We have promoted this as a better way to work for a long time, he added.

Sean Berry, sales manager, presentation products group for Memphis Communications Corp. agreed the industry has seen strong growth but the economic and travel industry factors now quicken the pace.

The videoconferencing business already was growing. The real issue is that it might make it an accelerated growth, Berry said.

Both company officials felt that price is a bigger factor in growth than fear or inconvenient travel.

The main reason for growth is that most people were turned off to $30,000 to $50,000 video conferencing systems you had three or four years ago, Berry said.

Myers agreed.

Its not like the old days when I first got into it, when you needed a whole lot of equipment, he said.

People can install a very basic system for as low as $500, Myers said, for a unit that sits on the desktop computer.

And still, systems can range as high as $25,000 if a person wants all the bells and whistles.

There is a wide range in between and Berry said a business could spend about $6,000 for a video conferencing system that does 30 frames a second.

Which is true video, he said.

One of the new technologies the industry is using today is video over (IP) Internet protocol.

So instead of broadcasting across a satellite, now you broadcast across the Internet, Berry said.

Its a bleeding edge, but becoming leading edge technology, he added.

When videoconferencing companies consult with businesses to test whether this form of technology works for that business, many of the questions they ask are travel related.

Berry said some questions would be: Do you have geographically dispersed offices? or Does your company have international locations? Is there a lot of travel involved?

However, there are other reasons to use the technology besides cutting back on travel time. Videoconferencing also works well for distance learning, project management, recruiting and training, he said.

Although business is steady some videoconferencing companies have not seen a noticeable increase in inquiries resulting from the current problems encountered by the travel industry

Carrie Doty, event coordinator with Nolans Inc, located on 675 Poplar Ave., said she hadnt seen any real travel-related business in the past two weeks.
To be honest, we haventalthough we did have one videoconference that was directly related Doty said.

She said a company representative was stranded at home and needed to cancel an event. In order to avoid other cancellations or inconveniences in schedule, he met clients by video.

Nolans, like other typical videoconferencing companies, installs systems along with renting out conference rooms at its office.

Renting a videoconference room is priced by hour. The smaller room, which seats up to six people, is $250 an hour. Extra charges are incurred if Nolans dials the call out.

A larger room is available, seating up to 70 people, and there is a $500 flat fee, plus the $250 an hour, plus extra charges for lines if the company dials out.

Doty has also experienced the trend in cheaper system installations and attributes the better prices to competition.

Just like everything else, once there is more competition, the prices will inevitably go down, Doty said.

She also attributes the growth in the industry to people seeking convenience rather than the cheaper technology.

I dont think it has anything to do with cost, I think it has more to do with convenience, she said.

The majority of the business the company sees in its office is for one or two people.

The service is often used for job interviews and court depositions.

So, instead of flying a prospective job candidate all the way across the country, and putting him in a hotelall they do is spend one hour on the phone with him and its still a face-to-face interview, she said.

Its more convenient and that is what I think has been driving the industry.

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