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Cisco to Release New Video Conferencing Products, Features

In an effort to compete with Zoom, Cisco will release new video conferencing products and features later this year and in early 2022. The releases will address everything from background noise to worker inclusion.

Cisco Webex meeting menu - use once only
(TNS) — Tech giant Cisco is releasing new touchscreens and interactive whiteboards as it seeks to capitalize on the growth of remote and flexible work and augment its Webex service, a Zoom competitor.

The San Jose company announced a slate of new products Tuesday as part of its WebexOne online conference, including a $1,245, 24-inch Webex Desk touchscreen and a $995, 15.6-inch WebEx Desk Mini, both releasing in early 2022.

Cisco's Webex Board Pro, a collaborative whiteboard that includes two cameras, is priced at $8,995 for 55 inches and $14,995 for 75 inches, with orders starting in November.

The company has been on its own shopping spree, buying more than a dozen companies during the pandemic — including BabbleLabs, an artificial intelligence tech company focusing on speech; Socio Labs, a service for online events; and Involvio LLC, which will help Webex expand its educational features.

In June, Cisco revamped the Webex product, charging one price for meetings, calling, messaging and other capabilities like events and polling, rather than individual prices for each service. The move came as Zoom became a tech phenomenon during the pandemic and gained market share compared to Webex.

In the fiscal quarter from May to July, Cisco's revenue rose 8% to $13.13 billion over the prior year. The gains mostly came in the company's core Infrastructure Platforms division, with a 13% jump in sales to $7.55 billion from the prior year. Cisco's routers, switches and data center infrastructure are a major part of the backbone of the Internet.

The company's Applications division, which includes Webex, had sales of $1.34 billion, down 1% from the previous year. During the same three months, Zoom reported $1.02 billion in revenue, up 54% from the prior year,

Cisco's presence in both hardware and software differentiates it from Zoom. It's also pitching to users of multiple services. The new touchscreens are compatible not only with WebEx, but also rival tech companies like Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Google Meet. Users can also share YouTube videos.

"Other manufacturers might say that they also have hardware that does that. But the difference is with ours, you don't have to reboot the hardware every single time. So you can click a button and you're in Zoom. You can click a button, you're on Teams, whereas with everyone else, you have to do a hard reset reboot," said Jeetu Patel, Cisco's executive vice president of security and collaboration.

Cisco's new features include live translation to over 100 different languages, audio balancing that increases the voice volume of people sitting farther away from devices and tools for workers who are on the go.

"We have technology called background noise removal where you can go into a completely noisy coffee shop, and it will eliminate all of the noise. Nobody in the call will ever know," said Aruna Ravichandran, chief marketing officer of Webex.

Another new feature crops people's faces during a video call so they have an equal amount of screen space, even if multiple people are joining a call from one camera and sitting in different places. It's an effort to make video conferencing more inclusive whether workers are at home or in the office.

"What do you do to provide people flexibility and inclusivity and mental health and well-being and support?" Patel said. "Everyone should have an equal seat at the table, regardless of where the table is, and people should have an equal voice so that they feel heard, and that no one should feel left out in the meeting."

The company's polling found that 64% of people agreed that the ability to work remotely directly influenced whether they want to stay at a job. It also found that 47% of people in a meeting don't talk, suggesting too many meetings are overwhelming people and making them disengaged. Patel sees that as a business opportunity, using technology to make videoconferencing more productive and engaging.

Cisco's challenges include supply chain disruptions that could make it harder to get parts and increase the price of products, and the company expects difficulty through at least January 2022 and potentially into next July.

"There's going to be shortages for the foreseeable future," Patel said.

©2021 San Francisco Chronicle, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.