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Cisco Workers Pushed on Video Conference

Cisco Systems Inc. rolled out its real-time video conference system for 50,000 employees worldwide in January, inviting them to test equipment with far-flung friends, family and co-workers.

Most big Cisco offices have TelePresence, which debuted in October. The technology -- which includes high-definition monitors, highly sensitive audio equipment and integrated networking gear -- starts at $99,000. A system that accommodates at least a dozen people costs $299,000.

TelePresence aims to be so realistic as to make conference-call participants believe the person talking on the monitor is in the same room. Multiple conversations can occur simultaneously, without awkward audio delays or jerky video.

Syd Garrett, a customer advocacy director who moved from Silicon Valley to North Carolina, brought in his teenage daughter and wife to reconnect with California friends and colleagues.

"I was talking with one of the other techie dads, and then the four girls chatting, giggling, interrupting each other, and finishing each other's sentences," Garrett said. "After a while, you forget that you aren't there."

Chief Globalization Officer Wim Elfrink, head of Cisco's new Globalization Center in Bangalore, India, encourages workers to book time on weekends, when the system is not used by engineers, salespeople or executives.

"I'm promoting it heavily," Elfrink said Tuesday night in a TelePresence interview with The Associated Press. "Two to three years from now, you'll see this in most hotels' business centers, and it will become the de facto standard."

Elfrink is installing TelePresence in his leased home in Bangalore. Despite the 13.5-hour time difference, he wants his administrative assistant in San Jose to get TelePresence in her office.

"I don't know if she'll like it," Elfrink joked, "but I think we might be able to stay in touch all day long."

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