"Videoconferencing is a tired, old space," said Tom Szabo, CEO of Telanetix when I spoke with him late last week. "Everybody's familiar with the old, legacy videoconferencing systems, with the cart and the camera on top, sitting in the corner gathering dust. It's slow and difficult to use, so nobody uses them! But it's still a $8.5 billion business!"

Telanetix didn't intend to dive into the videoconferencing business. All the company knew for sure what that it could, according to Szabo, "move stuff incredibly fast." Telanetix developed solutions in the content-distribution space, essentially in arenas where clients need to move content from one place to another, where it's more valuable. In fact, one of the company's key successes is the Red Dot Net system, which you might use to listen to CDs at stores without opening the package. There are 18,000 locations.

A while back, Telanetix hired a couple of research firms, showed them its software codecs, and both firms came back with the same ideal application: videoconferencing. So Telanetix dove straight into the market and came up with the notion of telepresence. "Essentially the sort of thing that the old videoconferencing brochures promised but didn't deliver," Szabo said, "telepresence is an immersive experience that boasts eye-to-eye contact with zero latency, no data loss, and no cameras or microphones."

Imagine that you're in your office, and on your far wall are four 50" plasma panels, and on your desk sits a touch-panel display. You touch NY on that panel, and instantly you can see your New York office and interact with your associates in that office as if they're in the same room with you. If you want to conference with four offices, you can simply divide those screens among the locations.

To grab market share, Telanetix determined that it had four things it needed to solve. First, the company wanted to make the solution easy to use. With the old videoconferencing systems, you couldn't just touch a panel and contact the New York office. You had to call and organize the call. Telanetix wanted to make it a one-button interaction. It was a lesson learned from its Red Dot Net system, which it considered "grandmother proof." Anyone should know how to operate it. "The telepresence solution should be CEO proof," Szabo said. "It's fantastic technology, but people have to know how to turn it on."

The second challenge was data. Every client has specific data requirements. Teams of engineers sit in different locations, and they can all see each other, but they're also all using their own software, manipulating screens and applications. "We wanted people to be able to use whatever they normally used for data, pixel for pixel."

A third concern was cost. Cisco and HP have also entered the telepresence space, but those companies do things a little differently. Whereas Telanetix's solution is software-based, Cisco and HP build a studio, a room within a room with baffled walls. "It's like you're on a news set," Szabo said. "They do it all on hardware." And that has a direct effect on cost. "HP's telepresence solution costs $500,000 per room, and Cisco's costs $300,000 per room. Ours is $30,000 to $80,000 per room, depending on how much you want to put into it. Plasmas are the cool thing, but you don't have to use those." There's also the networking cost: HP and Cisco require proprietary networks (at a whopping $15,000 to $18,000 per month). The average Telanetix solution costs $45,000 and comes with everything. Alternatively, you can lease it for $1,000 a month, including all equipment. And you have two choices for the network: Plug into your existing network, or get a non-dedicated network from Telanetix for $3,500 per month.

What's the future look like? Telanetix wants to drive more and more features and lower and lower cost. It's also looking into interoperability with more desktop products: "This is essentially a unified communications platform that we're building," Szabo said. "We want to get into the DNA of a company, down to the guys who are doing the work every day."

Check on the product demonstration at the Telanetix Web site.