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Microsoft-Cisco video interoperability delayed until later in 2020

Microsoft and Cisco said a long-awaited integration between their video conferencing room systems, originally slated to launch in early 2020, is still on track for release this year.

Microsoft and Cisco are behind schedule on plans to launch a highly anticipated interoperability feature for video conferencing. The new feature will make it easier for users to join Microsoft Teams meetings from Cisco Webex hardware and vice versa.

The two companies failed to meet their initial launch target of early 2020. Both companies said this week that the feature was on track to go live for later this year, but neither provided specifics.

In the meantime, businesses that use hardware and software from both Microsoft and Cisco are struggling with the same interoperability challenges that have vexed users for years.

Nicolas Houdeville, an IT admin for a small airline based in Belgium, said his company recently installed a Webex room kit in its conference room. But the airline later switched to Microsoft Teams for video conferencing because its users preferred that product to Webex.

Houdeville's company now wants to use the Webex system to host Teams meetings rather than force its employees to use Webex for some conferences and Teams for others. If it works well, the interoperability feature could save the company money.

"The Cisco Webex Room Kit was not a cheap investment, and we are still a young company," Houdeville said. "An interop solution will clearly have an impact on our budget as it will allow us to use devices already on hand for another communication solution."

Microsoft and Cisco are developing a way to use the WebRTC standard to simplify joining meetings. Users will be able to load Teams as a web app on Webex room systems and load Webex in the same way on Teams room systems.

The feature will let users join meetings with fewer clicks and prevent businesses from having to buy an interoperability service from a third party. Some older room systems won't support the new interoperability method, however.

Microsoft has certified Poly, BlueJeans and Pexip to integrate Teams room systems with other video software and will soon approve Cisco to do the same.

Existing interoperability services don't provide as smooth an experience as Microsoft and Cisco have promised with the integration, said Christophe Humbert, director of IT at CHS Consulting in Luxembourg. Those services rely on the older H.323 and SIP standards.

Microsoft also missed a deadline to launch the same kind of integration with Zoom in early 2020. Cisco plans to partner with other video providers on the feature as well but has not said which ones. The feature could become the new standard for video interoperability if it works well.

The companies had planned to launch the interoperability feature around the same time the coronavirus pandemic took hold. The crisis forced video conferencing providers to massively scale up their operations and prioritize things like virtual backgrounds and security.

The delay is likely less of an inconvenience than usual to businesses, given that many workers are still at home. However, some companies have begun reopening offices, which will renew demand for the feature.

Microsoft and Cisco already delivered another aspect of the partnership, however. Microsoft recently certified Cisco's session border controllers to work with Teams calling services.

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