November 2, 2004 11:00 AM PST

Office space gets new meaning at NEC in Japan

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innovations in the workplace," he said.

Broadband bedrock
The potential popularity of the new office concepts is largely based on the ubiquity of cheap broadband connections. Even during the lengthy recession, Japanese companies continued to replace older districts with shiny new corporate centers, so the computing and communication infrastructure is continually being upgraded.

At home, nearly 70 percent of Japanese Internet users have broadband connections. A 40-megabit-per-second line in Japan costs about the same as a 1.5mbps line in the United States.

IP telephony also got a boost last year, when the Japanese government began to issue licenses for the service. Dialing "050" before a phone number allows a user of a VoIP-enabled phone to conduct a call over IP wires rather than over regular lines. Roughly 70 percent of NEC's telecommunications equipment sales involve traditional PBX switches, but VoIP equipment, like the Univerge SV7000 switch, could account for half of sales in three years, Ichii said.

Besides VoIP equipment, the company is pushing laptops, document scanners and middleware that can be sold as a package.

For instance, NEC is selling a desktop interface called the UnifiedStar Excellent, which features windows for calendars, videoconferencing, messaging and other functions. Up to eight parties can videoconference simultaneously on the system, while 50 others can participate in listen-only mode. A large import-export company recently adopted the system.

Another product coming this month--which combines NEC switches and NTT DoCoMo handsets--will make it easier to switch from using third-generation, or 3G, channels on a handset to an integrated Wi-Fi connection, which will cut phone bills. Global Positioning System modules will also allow dispatchers to track field representatives.

The company is also developing security-themed products for the office of the future, such as more accurate fingerprint sensors. One application, a facial recognition and authentication system called NeoFace, automatically locks down a computer (equipped with a video camera) when the user gets up from his or her desk. It won't log on until the person

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