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New Cisco headsets, room displays integrate with Webex

Cisco expanded its endpoint portfolio this week with the release of new wireless Cisco headsets and room displays.

Cisco has released new wireless headsets designed for use with UC apps such as Cisco Webex and Cisco Jabber. The vendor also upgraded its line of Webex room kits and displays.

Cisco entered the headset market in March with a wired headset targeted at contact center agents. The vendor expanded its portfolio this week with the release of two wireless Cisco headsets, as well as two additional wired models.

Cisco has historically relied on partnerships with vendors including Plantronics and Jabra to provide customers with headsets that integrate with their IP phones and UC apps. The vendor will continue to support those partners, even as it competes against them with its new Cisco headsets.

IT administrators have begun demanding more of headset vendors -- better troubleshooting controls, in particular -- as the devices have emerged as a primary interface for connecting to UC apps, said Irwin Lazar, analyst at Nemertes Research, based in Mokena, Ill.

"Ultimately, [Cisco is] viewing the headset as an extension of a UC platform and they are a little more reluctant to give that to a third party," Lazar said. Cisco will be able to add AI and other advanced features to the headsets in the future, he said.

Businesses can manage their Cisco headsets through Cisco Unified Communications Manager, which includes controls for updating firmware, monitoring usage and diagnosing problems. Plantronics Manager Pro and Jabra Xpress give businesses similar remote management capabilities.

The two wireless Cisco headsets have ranges of 300 feet and their earpieces light up to indicate that a call is in progress. The new wired models give users the option of connecting using a USB adapter or a standard 3.5mm headphone jack.

"Very simply put, we are setting the bar on what we want the quality to be with these headphones," said Sri Srinivasan, the general manager of Cisco's team collaboration group.

Professional headset manufacturers made a combined $1.23 billion in sales last year, with revenues in that market expected to grow at an average annual rate of 8% through 2024, according to research by Frost & Sullivan.

Cisco does not want to miss that market opportunity, especially as headsets become more advanced and more integral to UC and collaboration, said Alaa Saayed, analyst at Frost & Sullivan.

Cisco upgrades room kits, displays

Besides the headsets, Cisco released a new video codec for boardrooms and auditoriums. The Cisco Webex Room Kit Pro, which replaces the Cisco SX80 Codec, includes six concurrent video inputs, three 4K video outputs, and eight microphones.

The Room Kit Pro also comes with AI features such as noise suppression, voice-activated meeting controls, and automated framing of meeting participants. Cisco has partnerships with LGE and Samsung to simplify integrations with those vendors' displays.

The Room Kit Pro is the most advanced of Cisco's video codecs, which can run on the cloud or on premises. The Room Kit Plus is for midsize conference rooms of up to 14 people, while the Room Kit is designed for rooms of up to seven people.

"With the new units Cisco is further differentiating itself from lower priced off-the-shelf solutions in the midsize, as well as large room category, including training rooms and auditoriums," said Roopam Jain, analyst at Frost & Sullivan.

Cisco also released two new Webex displays this week. The Webex Room 70 G2 display costs the same as the original Webex Room 70 display but runs on the new Room Kit Pro codec for large conference rooms.

The Webex Room 55 Dual display uses the Room Kit Plus codec and includes two 55-inch displays, while the previously released Webex Room 55 display comes with one screen and uses the Room Kit codec.

"Cisco continues to lead the market by offering a richer use experience, including rich AI features with greater flexibility at prices lower than its previous generation of units," Jain said.

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