Tue, May 13, 2003 - Page 10 News List

Videoconferencing demand booms

By Annabel Lue  /  STAFF REPORTER

Doctor Xu Min, who works at the isolated SARS ward in a Guangzhou hospital, talks to her husband on a videophone. Guangdong Telecom installed one million yuan (US$121, 212) worth of videophone facilities for the medical staff on the front line combating SARS. In both China and Taiwan, demand for video hook-ups is soaring.

PHOTO: REUTERS

Telecom companies are seeing use of videoconferencing services break records as business travelers cancel trips due to fears of SARS.

Chunghwa Telecom Co (中華電信), Taiwan's largest phone company, reported yesterday that per-minute use of videoconferencing has seen a six-fold surge last month.

"[Prior to the SARS outbreak], only one or two companies registered for videoconferencing services daily, while that number has risen to seven or eight per day in April," said Chen Hsiu-ling (陳秀玲), a director at Chunghwa's international communications division.

"Demand has reached a record high since we launched the service last year," she added.

Videoconferencing is a data communications system that allows users at different locations to see and chat with others via digital cameras and microphones.

For those that want to access the service, the installation of digital cameras and broadband communications are needed.

Sparq (速博), one of the nation's major telecom service providers, noticed the spike in demand and jumped at the opportunity to push the new company service.

"Over the past two weeks we have received a lot of inquiries about videoconferencing, so we decided to push the product onto the market immediately," said Kuo Ming-chi (郭明琪), a vice president at Sparq.

Companies with manufacturing in China are the target customers.

"Most companies have banned travel to China and Hong Kong to avoid the chance of infection, but they still need communications to maintain their business," Kuo said.

Videoconferencing fills that void.

The company has inked up with China's China Unicom Ltd (中國聯通) to offer videoconferencing between Taiwan and 300 cities in China and Hong Kong.

Sparq brings the videoconferencing equipment directly to companies and charges by the month. Rates start at NT$79,000 for the basic service.

In an effort to protect the nation's businesses from SARS losses, the government has decided to assist companies using videoconferencing, with state-run Chunghwa Telecom offering the poor businessman's alternative.

The Board of Foreign Trade yesterday announced plans to subsidize 80 percent of the videoconferencing service charges at Chunghwa Telecom. This puts the cost of a one-hour videoconference between Taipei and Shanghai at NT$750, down from NT$8,634, rendering the service far more accessible to small businesses.

Rates vary by locations, just like international calls.

Meanwhile, Sparq is also offering temporary office space for companies that have separate teams of staff.

"We've established temporary offices for rent ? they include computers, telephones, Internet networks or even videoconferencing equipment are already ready there," Kuo said.

Several banking or financial companies that require stable, around-the-clock Internet transmission services have set up temporary offices within Sparq.

More than 70 percent of Sparq's temporary office space or 120 desks have been occupied and see demand rising, the company is planning to expand another 200-ping space for the service.

The rental of one desk space within the temporary office is between NT$4,500 to NT$10,000 per month, depending on the client's requirements.

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