Experts say it is only a matter of time before businesses in Asia start expanding to IP networks President George W. Bush has installed one at his ranch in Texas. New Zealand film director Peter Jackson relied on his when away from the set of Lord of the Rings, and Basil Exposition used one to keep tabs on Austin Powers in the spy spoof International Man of Mystery. Video phones are no longer the stuff of sci-fi, and yet only a limited number seem to use them. But that looks set to change, vendors say, because IP network technology has matured significantly and become increasingly common among businesses of all sizes. 'Video calls have been around since the 1940s,' said James Haensly, regional chief technology officer for telecommunications company Avaya. 'With the bandwidth now available in Asia, firms can start putting video over their networks.' Analysts forecast the enterprise market for internet protocol private branch exchange (PBX) systems will grow to US$2.39 billion by 2008 from US$577.28 million last year, as companies switch their legacy PBX systems to voice-over internet protocol (VoIP). 'I think the debate over whether to shift entirely to IP networks in the long term is over,' said Fredy Cheung, Cisco Systems Hong Kong managing director. 'The only remaining issue is timing.' VoIP has been the talk of technology publications for well over five years. Early adopters, such as Cisco, saw in the technology inherent cost savings, with IP networks handling data, voice, video and storage on the same infrastructure. Mr Haensly said costs had come down with the maturing of the technology, but functionality was driving VoIP into the mainstream. 'A lot of the hype regarding IP telephony, let's say VoIP, was only about cost savings in the early days,' he said. 'Especially in distributed environments, those cost savings are still there but IP telephony is becoming more about improving business functions.' Much of this added functionality comes from convergence. Motorola's CN620 handset can seamlessly hand over between cellular networks and enterprise IP networks. The firm said the trend in office communications was towards e-mail, internet, instant messaging, land line and mobile communications - all on the same device. Such devices are not likely to require a big shift before they take off. But the stuttering popularity of 3G, which boasts video conferencing as a 'killer app', suggests that video telephony may have a tougher time entering the mainstream. But Benny Lee, Asia Pacific president of video systems and services provider Tandberg, sees huge potential for his firm's technology. 'Visual communications today is very much at the takeoff point,' he said. 'Businesses are increasingly global and increasingly complex, and the speed at which we are expected to do business and communicate has increased significantly.' He said video conferencing would come into its own for serious business meetings 'when you need to see the body language of the guy sitting in front of you'. Cisco's Mr Cheung said video conferencing would be a business choice but would require time for people to get used to. Many companies adopted video communications during Sars, and were now using it for executive communications and employee briefings. 'If you do that every day, it creates an effective culture among employees to access information and education over the IP network,' he said. Companies have many other reasons to shift to IP telephony networks, but the video is especially interesting for its potential impact on communications culture. At Cisco's Hong Kong office, systems engineer Adrian Leung demonstrated convergence of e-mail and voice communication on the same server. Users can 'listen' to their e-mails through handsets via text-to-voice, and receive e-mail alerts of their voice mail.