BT: Small Firms Snub Videoconferencing

The telecom company says SMEs are still resistant to the virtual meeting technology, but that environmental concerns will eventually win them over

There is still little demand for videoconferencing technology among small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), according to a senior BT executive.

BT's general manager of broadband, VoIP and software services, Chris Lindsay, said acceptance of videoconferencing will eventually come about as a result of concern for the environment and the development of new social norms. He said that despite the fact BT does offer videoconferencing applications, demand remains low for now.

He told's sister site ZDNet UK: "When we talk to customers, if they've got an audio conference, whiteboards and shared applications, then the addition of video over and above that doesn't add tremendous amounts to their experience. When a customer is in a video conference you have to learn new rules of social etiquette. It's not just a technological thing -- it's a social and cultural issue. Customers are not seeing the increased benefit from having the visual piece over and above the audio."

Some communications companies are placing a lot of stock in a potential videoconferencing boom, citing a desire to cut down on travel as a major motivator for their multinational clients. One notable example is Cisco, whose high-end TelePresence equipment and software suite is being resold to large corporations by service providers including BT itself.

But Lindsay said while SMEs increasingly also have a green policy, most approaches are based on schemes such as recycling, rather than cutting down on travel.

He said: "We are seeing a growing number of multinational SMEs, and they still do a significant amount of travelling. So far they have been content with the rest of the collaboration tools they have got. At the end of the day, if a guy is working with a supplier in China, he's going to go out and meet that person. That's how business is culturally done at the moment."

BT is currently focusing more on its VoIP services, which will soon see an improvement in quality, claimed Lindsay. "We expect to be rolling out a quality of service layer in the early part of 2008. What that means is that where customers are using our voice services over our broadband, then the voice traffic will be prioritised."

The telco launched a new IP Centrex-hosted VoIP service for its SME customers this week. Geared towards offices of up to 10 employees, the service offers PBX-style functionality for a £40 setup fee and £5 per end-user per month.

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