Cisco expands the Webex feature set and launches partner integrations with App Hub.

Jeffrey Schwartz

December 9, 2020

5 Min Read
Video conference on laptop

Cisco is rolling out a major Webex upgrade that the company promises will make virtual conferencing better than live meetings. The revamped Webex, revealed Tuesday at Cisco’s WebexOne conference, raises the competitive stakes with rivals Microsoft and Zoom, among others.

Besides an onslaught of new calling and video communications features, Cisco revealed plans to make the Webex platform more extensible. The new Webex App Hub, also launched at WebexOne, will expand the ecosystem of solutions that integrate with Webex. Box, Dropbox, Salesforce, ServiceNow and Workplace by Facebook are among the first partners that will support prebuilt integrations. The Webex upgrade also includes the new Webex Contact Center and three new Cisco devices.

The devices include the Webex Desk camera, a 4K webcam that can respond to gestures for functions such as muting. Cisco also previewed the Webex Desk Hub to enable hotdesking, and the WebEx Desk, an all-in-one desktop device.

Like Zoom and Teams, the COVID-19 pandemic was a catalyst for accelerated use of Webex for communications, meetings and collaboration. Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins shares the common view that remote work is here to stay. According to a Cisco survey, 98% of respondents expect all meetings going forward will have at least one remote participant.


Cisco’s Chuck Robbins

“We know in the past, the experience is not what we wanted it to be,” Robbins said, in prerecorded remarks kicking off the WebexOne conference. “This is why we’re so focused on making the Webex experience 10 times better than in-person interactions. Because we have an opportunity to reimagine what work looks like. We can do this by simplifying your experience making it more customizable and more inclusive to fit your needs.”

Arms Race with Zoom, Microsoft and UcaaS Providers

Cisco is not alone in aiming to make virtual meetings better than in-person meetings. Sharp demand for virtual meeting and presentation services this year has created an arms race among providers. Microsoft launched new Teams meetings and calling features last week. At its recent Zoomtopia 2020 event, Zoom CEO Eric Juan also spoke of making its service better than live meetings.

Nevertheless, touting that Webex will make virtual conferencing 10 times better than live meetings is a bold claim. Despite challenges from formidable rivals, Cisco is the preferred network and voice communications provider for the world’s largest enterprises. Webex continues to have a strong position in large enterprises, according to analyst Irwin Lazar, a VP at Nemertes Research.


Nemertes’ Irwin Lazar

“But they are under pressure from Microsoft in their core market, and they are fighting against the market penetration and growth that Zoom has experienced over the last 10 months or so as a result of the pandemic,” Lazar said.

Overall, Lazar said Cisco is executing well with its Webex upgrades.

“But they must continue to deliver innovation at an accelerated rate of speed,” he said.

Enhanced Noise Reduction Using AI

Some of the new features outlined for the Webex upgrade are rolling out immediately, while others are on the 2021 road map. One feature Cisco emphasized is new noise elimination and enhanced voice processing technology that filters background noise. It does so with new artificial intelligence (AI) technology designed to automatically detect and filter extraneous room noise.


Cisco’s Abhay Kulkarni at virtual WebexOne conference.

The AI technology, which uses machine learning to eliminate background noise, comes from Cisco’s acquisition of BabbleLabs, which the company completed in October. Abhay Kulkarni, Cisco’s Webex Meetings VP and general manager, explained how it works during the opening WebexOne keynote session.

“We use artificial intelligence to distinguish background noise from human speech so that background noise can be removed without affecting the fidelity of human speech,” Kulkarni said. “This technology works equally well with all kinds of noise: dishes from kitchens, barking dogs, a vacuum cleaner or a leaf blower, just to name a few examples.”

Cisco said the noise reduction technology is available in …

… a new version of the Webex app. The Webex upgrade also now generates searchable transcripts and live closed captioning. Additionally, participants can give verbal requests such as action items during a meeting.

An improved slider control appears in the Webex upgrade, designed to make it easier to change video layouts. Also, a new feature called Webex Huddle now allows users to spontaneously establish an unscheduled meeting. Furthermore, Cisco is adding new calling plans, including its own PSTN service. It will initially be available in the U.S. later this month. Cisco will make it available in Canada next quarter and in other countries later in 2021.

Webex Meetings Features Planned for 2021

Cisco also revealed several features coming to Webex Meetings next year. Among them include:

  • In-meeting gestures: Webex will translate a gesture, such as a participant raising his or her thumb, into an on-screen image.

  • Immersive sharing: A participant will be able to share a presentation, video or application as a dynamic background.

  • Real-time translation: Meeting attendees will be able to present in their native languages and Webex will create real-time translations to other participants. Set to start rolling out in February, it will initially support English, Spanish, French, German, Mandarin, Portuguese, Arabic, Russian, Dutch and Japanese.

  • Save and share meeting artifacts: Webex will save meeting content and recordings in the app.

  • Support for large audiences: Webex Events sessions will soon scale up to 25,000 fully participating attendees Also, a new Webex Events native live streaming option, set for release later this month, will support up to 100,000 participants.

  • Meeting templates: Formatted meeting agendas will let organizers ensure all attendees have an opportunity to speak. The templates will have an option called “quick syncs” which can establish time limits for a given meeting.

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About the Author(s)

Jeffrey Schwartz

Jeffrey Schwartz has covered the IT industry for nearly three decades, most recently as editor-in-chief of Redmond magazine and executive editor of Redmond Channel Partner. Prior to that, he held various editing and writing roles at CommunicationsWeek, InternetWeek and VARBusiness (now CRN) magazines, among other publications.

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