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Need to travel? Try video

Jittery about travel or simply unwilling to undergo the hassle of heightened airport security, many people are turning to videoconferencing technology that is just now becoming reasonable in quality and price.

The high price tags and jerky pictures of yesteryears are gone, while bandwidth has become more plentiful and reliable. Now, companies turned off by the $30,000 bulky videoconferencing systems of a decade ago can outfit a broadband-connected conference room for $5,000.

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Companies that provide videoconferencing services saw their business spike after the terror attacks.

Setups at hotels were used to contact loved ones or stranded travelers. Companies turned to videoconferencing to conduct meetings when restrictions on air travel disrupted previous plans.

A similar spike occurred after the Gulf War, recalls John Fields, chief operating officer at V-SPAN Inc., a provider of conferencing services based in King of Prussia, Pa.

This time, with companies like Schlumberger Ltd., Coca-Cola, and Home Depot placing restrictions on employee flying because of concerns about safety, analysts expect the boost in virtual meetings to last.

Research firm Jain projects revenues for the US videoconferencing market will grow from $1.99 billion in 2000 to $7.8 billion in 2006.

Even before the terror attacks, analysts had expected some industry growth. That's because companies were expanding network capabilities just as the economic slowdown prompted a curtailment on business travel.

Security has already helped videoconferencing gain traction: A World Bank meeting in June was simulcast on the Internet so participants could avoid a violent confrontation with protesters in Barcelona, Spain.