Cisco CEO sees videoconferencing on planes within 18 months

The arrival of Wi-Fi services and other types of Internet connections on planes will enable travelers to hook up devices to the Web.

In-flight Internet access may also enable videoconferencing on board airplanes, effectively closing off one of the last refuges from meetings for business travelers. At least, that's what Cisco Systems CEO John Chambers predicted at Symposium/ITxpo 2008 Wednesday.

During a keynote question-and-answer session at the Gartner conference, Chambers continued to make the argument that videoconferencing can significantly reduce corporate travel. He claimed that Cisco has cut its own travel by 30 percent, thereby saving about US$150 million, through the use of its TelePresence technology -- one of a new breed of high-definition videoconferencing systems from various vendors.

"I want to be on a plane and have TelePresence in front of me," quipped Thomas Bittman, one of the Gartner analysts who interviewed Chambers onstage here.

"Well, the answer is, you are probably going to," said Chambers, who predicted that the arrival of Wi-Fi services and other types of Internet connections on planes will enable travelers to hook up devices to the Web -- potentially moving in-flight Internet access well beyond mere entertainment options. Chambers said he sees such capabilities becoming available within 18 months or so.

Chambers also bucked the economic gloom and doom by saying that he plans to expand Cisco's IT spending during 2009. "We are going to grow our expenses in IT, regardless of what the economy does, by 10 percent next year," he said.

If other companies follow Cisco's lead on spending, it likely would be a good thing for the networking vendor's bottom line. But Chambers advised IT managers that budget cuts are likely at companies where IT is primarily viewed as an expense. At businesses where technology is seen as "the enabler of business strategy," he said, economic slowdowns can be used to "gain huge competitive advantage."

For instance, a CIO can make an argument for increasing IT spending if he tells his company's CEO that doing so could help grow business activity by 5 to 10 percent or "dramatically reduce the risk" involved in combining two companies that are being merged, Chambers said.

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