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Cisco adds more Webex-Teams integration for hybrid work

Cisco Webex users now have more hybrid work features, including a new whiteboard and integration with Teams, iPhone and iPad cameras.

Cisco has integrated calling between Webex and Microsoft Teams and launched video conferencing hardware for large workspaces as the company bolsters its hardware and software for hybrid work.

Cisco introduced the latest Webex-Teams integration and the Cisco Room Kit EQ at this week's WebexOne conference, held at the company's San Jose, Calif., headquarters. Other Webex features unveiled at the event include an improved Webex whiteboard and audio watermarking to protect meeting confidentiality.

The Cisco Room Kit EQ is a video device that integrates with up to three external displays. It has an 80-megapixel quad-lens camera and an AI-based computing appliance called the Cisco Codec EQ for maintaining video and audio quality during meetings. The system also includes a tablet-like touch-based controller.

The new Webex-Teams integration is the latest feature in a Cisco-Microsoft partnership launched two weeks ago at the Microsoft Ignite conference. At the show, Cisco introduced six meeting room devices it will sell next year with Microsoft certification for Teams.

The hardware includes the Cisco Room Bar, the 55- and 75-inch Cisco Board Pro that combines a digital whiteboard with video conferencing, and the Cisco Room Kit Pro for holding video meetings in large spaces. 

The other Teams hardware includes the Cisco Desk Pro for desktop video conferencing and the Cisco Room Navigator. The latter is a hardware-software combo for managing the use of in-office meeting rooms.

At WebexOne, Cisco introduced the option of Webex Calling within the Teams interface. The feature eliminates the need to switch between the two apps.

Bringing interoperability between Cisco and Microsoft products -- particularly Cisco hardware -- is long overdue, said IDC analyst Rich Costello.

"I don't know why it took so long," Costello said. "It makes perfect sense."

Microsoft's top position in the unified communications and collaboration (UC&C) market makes it a critical target for video hardware vendors.

In the second quarter, Microsoft accounted for more than 38% of the worldwide UC&C market compared with Cisco's 8%, according to IDC. Microsoft's UC&C revenue rose almost 23% year over year in the quarter, to $5.7 billion. Cisco's revenue increased by 1% to $1.2 billion.

Webex meeting on Cisco desktop hardware
A Webex meeting conducted on Cisco hardware for hybrid work.

Cisco tries to make Webex more user friendly

Many businesses find Webex difficult to use, a weakness that Microsoft and Zoom exploited during the pandemic when video conferencing became a critical means of communication for people working from home. 

"Cisco has been in catch-up mode to try to make [Webex] a better experience," Costello said.

Features introduced at WebexOne to improve the product included an easier-to-use whiteboard app in the Webex Suite, according to Cisco. A person can start or join a brainstorming session on the whiteboard from a browser, the Webex App or a Cisco device.

Cisco also launched the ability to share content on the Webex Meetings app using either the rear-facing or front-facing camera of an Apple iPhone or iPad. The company expects the feature to be helpful to architects or frontline workers who want to share pictures from a job site in real time.

For companies holding Webex-based webinars, Cisco created a new lobby supporting various customizations, such as agendas, speaker bios and sponsors. Companies can embed the content into event websites using Cisco widgets.

Cisco's new audio watermarking can protect sensitive discussions during confidential meetings on Webex. The technology lets companies trace an unauthorized recording to the person responsible for it, no matter how the person shared the audio.

Cisco extended the Webex management console, Control Hub, through integration with Cisco Spaces, a cloud-based location services platform that gathers information through Cisco's wireless infrastructure. The integration lets companies use Control Hub for real-time office occupancy and air quality updates.

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