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Cisco adds UC headset management to IT console

Cisco is accelerating its push into the UC headset market with the release of new analytics and management tools for IT administrators.

Cisco has added headset management and analytics tools to the IT dashboard of its flagship on-premises telephony product. The move is part of a campaign to penetrate a corner of the unified communications market Cisco had previously ceded to hardware partners.

Cisco for years relied exclusively on vendors such as Poly (formerly Plantronics) and Jabra to provide customers with headsets for its desk phones and UC apps. In March 2018, Cisco released its headsets in an attempt to capture a slice of a market that Frost & Sullivan expects to exceed $2 billion by 2024.

The new UC headset management tools are a crucial part of Cisco's sales pitch. Unlike competitors that specialize only in endpoints, Cisco also makes the telecommunications products that its headsets are used with, allowing Cisco to include a more comprehensive set of analytics and management tools in a single dashboard.

A recent update to Cisco Unified Communications Manager (CUCM), an on-premises and hosted IP-based telephony system, added headset management capabilities to the same dashboard that IT administrators already use to troubleshoot call quality issues and other Cisco phones.

IT administrators can use the console to update the firmware of Cisco headsets or alter settings for volume, audio bandwidth and wireless range. Admins can perform the tasks for individuals or groups of employees all at once. The dashboard also provides an inventory of headsets that includes non-Cisco devices.

The tools are not revolutionary. Most major hardware vendors have developed software for managing endpoints that provide a similar level of control. Businesses are coming to expect these types of consoles as they buy headsets in increasing numbers.

The latest tools are available now in CUCM version 12.5(1)SU1. Later this year, businesses still using version 11.5(1)SU7 will be able to access them without updating to the latest edition of CUCM.

Cisco's new headset management technology is only for CUCM. The company has yet to bring the same features to the IT dashboard of Webex, a cloud-based calling, messaging and meetings app.

Cisco offers four lines of headsets for office and contact center workers, a mix of wired and DECT wireless devices. The vendor is planning to release Bluetooth-enabled headsets in the coming months.

Cisco is not the only new entrant in the headset market. Longtime UC rival Avaya released a line of headsets in early 2019 as part of a broader campaign to boost hardware sales. Around the same time, Avaya launched its first open-SIP phones, which work with the communications platform of any vendor.

Professional headset revenues were projected to increase at an average annual rate of 8% between 2017 and 2024, according to Frost & Sullivan. The increased demand stems in part from the growing popularity of cloud UC and softphones, which let users place and receive calls through their computer.

"Cisco's newly introduced headset management tools follow the moves of the leading professional headset vendors in the space," said Alaa Sayeed, analyst at Frost & Sullivan. "It is surely a positive step forward from a company that is visibly investing in the pro headset arena as part of its broad enterprise endpoints portfolio."

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