Cisco is continuing to push the remote teleworking agenda, with the announcement that it has set up public rooms for people who want to use high-end videoconferencing, but who can't afford a full-scale Cisco TelePresence system.

A typical Cisco TelePresence system ranges in list price from $34,900 (£20,278) to $349,000 (£203,000) per installation, a significant outlay for companies. In response to these pricing concerns, Cisco has opened public TelePresence suites in London, Santa Clara, Boston, as well as Hyderabad, Gurgaon, Chennai, Bangalore, and Mumbai in India. A public suite at the Pierre Hotel is also due in New York next year.

These public suites are available to rent on an hourly basis. The London suite is based at the Taj Hotel on Buckingham Gate in central London.

Prices range from $299 (£173) for one or two participants per suite, to $499 (£289) for up to six participants per suite, to $899 (£522) for up to 18 participants per suite. However, a Cisco spokeswoman said that the UK pricing would be around $500 (£290) per hour (for the 1 to six person suite at the Taj Hotel).

Cisco and Tata Communications have apparently committed to a roll out of 100 public rooms in total, located in business centres across the world. Tata Group, which owns both Tata Communications and Taj Hotels, has 700 hotels in more than 40 countries around the world. Cisco wouldn't comment on whether additional public rooms would be made available in the UK.

Meanwhile, Cisco has gained another video conferencing competitor, after LifeSize expanded its line of meeting systems that undercut Cisco's prices.

A new generation of products from LifeSize, ranging from two-seat to six-seat configurations, cost just $10,999 to $49,999. But in addition, the company is taking a different approach from Cisco's focus on dedicated rooms with special furniture and lighting. Users can set up its systems anywhere they want, with any high-definition display they choose, according to CTO Casey King. LifeSize systems also are designed to work over the open Internet with relatively slow connections, he said.

LifeSize introduced the LifeSize Team 200, Room 200 and three-screen Conference 200. They can be ordered now and are scheduled to begin shipping in the first half of November.

In an interview, Cisco's Marthin De Beer, senior vice president and general manager of the Emerging Technologies Group, downplayed lower-priced competition and the value to users of setting up conference units wherever they like. A good experience is paramount, because poor quality is what held back adoption of videoconferencing before high-quality video and audio became available, he said. Cisco's platforms support 1080p at 30 frames per second, though they can step down to lower quality to accommodate weaker connections, De Beer said.

Cisco did achieve a breakthrough in late 2006 with its introduction of TelePresence, which transformed the perception of videoconferencing, according to Nora Freedman, an analyst at IDC. LifeSize has been selling products for three years, and others have been in the market even longer.

"I don't think that LifeSize would have been able to capitalise on the market without being able to piggyback on the marketing Cisco has done," she said.

IDC has projected total telepresence revenue from all vendors to grow from $72 million in 2007 to $1 billion in 2011. There is a market for both Cisco's type of systems and LifeSize's more flexible gear, though the current tough times may cause a "hiccup" in that growth, Freedman said.

The advent of less-expensive options such as the improved LifeSize products and Cisco's public suites gives potential users some ways to ease in to the technology, something that will be especially welcome now, she said.

Based on original reporting by Stephen Lawson, IDG news service.