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Cisco adds calling during internet outages to Webex

Cisco will make Webex Calling less reliant on internet connectivity to increase its appeal to healthcare and other industries requiring a highly reliable phone service.

Later this year, Cisco plans to add background noise reduction and the ability to make calls during internet outages to its Webex collaboration platform.

The company unveiled the upcoming Webex Calling features this week. The more reliable phone service should make the system a better option for industries that find internet-based calling too risky.

When a company's internet service goes down, Webex Calling will direct calls through the public switched telephone network (PSTN). The capability could make the phone service an option for industries like healthcare, which depends on highly reliable communications for patient safety.   

"I'll never forget doctors telling us, 'If a phone doesn't ring, someone could die,'" Webex Calling senior vice president Lorrissa Horton said.

Cisco's outage protection differs from Microsoft Teams Phone and Zoom Phone. Both competitors rely on third parties like communications software maker AudioCodes, Metrigy analyst Irwin Lazar said.

Many companies with on-premises calling use backup technology to maintain PSTN services during internet problems, Lazar said. "The lack of [that capability] has been an obstacle in moving to the cloud."

Cisco will release the telephony feature in preview late in the third quarter.

Cisco Video Phone 8875
Cisco will start selling the Video Phone 8875, a desk phone with a 7-inch touchscreen, in August.

The noise filtering feature will reduce background noise during phone calls. If a worker calls from a place where many people are talking, Webex Calling will muffle all but the caller's voice. The feature uses the same technology that is in Webex video meetings. Cisco acquired the noise-cancellation software through the 2020 acquisition of BabbleLabs.

Noise reduction is an essential feature for hybrid work, Horton said. Parents can't always find a quiet place to make calls from their homes. That problem is unlikely to go away soon. More than half of the 1,200 office workers surveyed recently by consulting firm PwC preferred to work at least three days a week remotely.

"We are all working from very different places now," Horton said. "We definitely have a lot more random noises at home than we ever expected."

In other news, Cisco will launch a video desk phone, the Video Phone 8875, this year. The phone has a 1080p, 7-inch touchscreen and a camera cover for when it's not in use.

Cisco designed the device to facilitate hot desking, an office configuration in which employees will share a desk instead of having one assigned. Workers claim a desk by scanning a QR code that quickly logs them into their Webex Suite profile. Companies can order the device in August, but Cisco did not say how much it would cost.

Cisco also released a combo speaker and camera product for small and medium-sized meeting rooms. The Webex Room Bar offers spatial audio, a 12-megapixel camera and stereo speakers. The device supports two screens and is interoperable with other video conferencing services, including  Zoom, Google Meet and Microsoft Teams. The Room Bar sells for $3,795.

Mike Gleason is a reporter covering unified communications and collaboration tools. He previously covered communities in the MetroWest region of Massachusetts for the Milford Daily NewsWalpole TimesSharon Advocate and Medfield Press. He has also worked for newspapers in central Massachusetts and southwestern Vermont and served as a local editor for Patch. He can be found on Twitter at @MGleason_TT.

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