Rapid growth in fuel prices is forcing business to consider alternatives to business travel.

The use of multi-media web conferencing applications is one option that is becoming increasingly viable. Savings of $2,000 per year per executive can be achieved according to certain technology experts.

High speed broadband connections have enabled web conferencing to move to a new level. Combining instant messaging, realtime video, audio and application sharing allows executives anywhere in the world to see one another and hold conversations while working together on a common document or file. All participants simply need a headset with mouthpiece, and possibly a webcam.

There are more sophisticated services available that allow participants to online meetings using laptops and 3G phones.

In the past slow internet connections have given rise to poor quality audio and video during web conferences. The number of participants in online meetings was also often restricted due to the heavy demand on limited bandwidth.

Online meetings were also overlooked due to the security concerns that surrounded them. The use of an open network to conduct a private meeting always gave rise to a possible threat to confidentiality.

These issues have now largely been dealt with, and this marketplace is growing rapidly with lots of competition including online giants such as Microsoft and WebEx. Excellent news indeed for business. This fierce competition is having the effect of forcing down prices, thus allowing even small businesses access to fully managed web conferencing suites

A word of warning before you dive in and book your first online meeting. First understand what productivity improvements your business can achieve through the use of these facilities, and adopt the services which really improve your bottom line.

For example, live video conferencing is not for everybody. Many firms will get the most benefit from instant messaging or VoIP (“voice over internet protocol”) service, possibly combined with application sharing.

Another word of warning. If you require outside parties to participate in online meetings be careful not to use a provider who insists on all participants using their proprietary software.

You should also ensure that any encryption facilities being utilized cover all media being used in the conference.

Author Mark Vandorone offers specialized online advertising campaigns at Five Marketing . Not happy with your results from the Pay-Per-Click search engines? Pay Mark a visit at http://www.fivemarketing.com or contact him by e-mail at support@fivemarketing.com