Videoconferencing on Target for Rapid Growth in Next Decade Western Heights Uses Technology in Teaching, Financial Aid Counseling

Article excerpt

SEATTLE -- Lisa Goodman was red-faced three years ago when she tried to hold a videoconference with a big client and several of her offices using equipment from Kinko's Inc. and Sprint Corp.

The system failed -- they lost contact with one of their departments -- and the presentation flopped.

"It made us look like we weren't prepared," said Goodman, co- founder of Service Intelligence Inc., a Seattle-based consulting firm that helps companies such as AirTouch Cellular provide better customer service. Thanks to improved technology, that hasn't happened again. And Service Intelligence now plans to buy the latest type of videoconferencing system, which is built into personal computers. "It's been great for customer loyalty," said Goodman, who expects to buy PC-based systems within a year. "The technology will improve (more) in a year." That's what Intel Corp., PictureTel Corp., Sony Corp. and others are counting on. PC-based videoconferencing is expected to see 70 percent annual sales growth through 2001, according to Forward Concepts, a Tempe, Ariz.-based market research firm. Intel, which last year introduced such desktop videoconferencing over the Internet, led the market with 40 percent of the 88,000 units shipped worldwide in 1996. PictureTel followed with 38 percent, Forward Concepts said. The appeal of videoconferencing is that it lets people see and talk to each other worldwide, connecting employees in California and Paris, Oklahoma City students with East Coast colleges, even NASA with Space Shuttle astronauts. The frustration is that Goodman's experience of three years ago isn't unique. The larger videoconferencing systems normally found in corporate conference rooms, dubbed group systems, took a long time to live up to expectations. And now that they've improved, cheaper PC-based versions are gaining favor. Such desktop systems are catching the eye of companies from Boeing Co. to real estate agencies to banks. With Intel's equipment, the Western Heights School District in Oklahoma City lets professors at colleges hundreds of miles away teach a class via video. And Western Heights students interview with colleges around the United States about financial aid. These uses, combined with the January introduction of Intel's MMX multimedia chip that speeds up delivery of video and audio, will help the videoconferencing market take off, analysts said. The global market will increase 40 percent a year to $5 billion by 2001 from $1 billion in 1996, Forward Concepts predicts. …


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