Cisco Systems Inc. has begun renting videoconferencing rooms to the public for one-off meetings, aiming to introduce its high-definition TelePresence conferencing system to small and midsize companies.

In what Cisco says is a precurser to a more extensive rollout next year of up to 100 TelePresence rooms, the company has partnered with Taj Hotels and Tata Communications to open videoconferencing rooms at Taj Boston; 51 Buckingham Gate, Taj Suites and Residences, London; Taj Mahal Palace & Tower, Mumbai; and Taj West End, Bangalore, India. Additional pay-per-use TelePresence suites are operating in Confederation of Indian Industry offices in four Indian cities (Hyderabad, Gurgaon, Chennai, and Bangalore) as well as at the Cisco TelePresence Suites facility in Santa Clara, Calif. New York’s Pierre Hotel is expected to be the next location online in early 2009.

The cost of renting a TelePresence room ranges from $299 per hour for one or two people up to $899 an hour for up to 18 people.

Until now, use of Cisco’s TelePresence product, which delivers fluid-motion video, high-quality acoustics, and life-size images of participants, was limited to approximately 200 companies that had invested in the systems (about 1,000 TelePresence units in all) as well as about 300 units used in Cisco's own facilities in 40 countries.