(Bloomberg) — Cisco Systems Inc., the biggest maker of networking equipment, is upgrading its Webex conferencing service to beat back challenges from Zoom Video Communications Inc., the upstart whose stock has risen six-fold this year.
The company announced a raft of enhancements going live on Tuesday and promised a number of others will be added soon. Webex calls will now enhance speech and cancel background noise, Cisco said at a corporate event. The service will include closed captioning, transcriptions, voice commands and impromptu meetings that don’t require advanced scheduling.
Cisco is trying to bolster Webex, a longtime favorite corporate tool, to fend off a raft of relatively new entrants such as Zoom and enhanced offerings from other technology companies that have grown rapidly during the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown.The strategy is part of Chief Executive Officer Chuck Robbins’s drive to wean the company off a reliance on sales of pricey hardware and make the company a provider of networking services. Cisco hasn’t kept pace with Zoom or other corporate darlings of the pandemic. The stock is down about 8% this year.
Other new features on Webex include the ability to read gestures by participants. A physical thumbs up will translate into a virtual reaction conveyed to a speaker. Templates will help meetings progress in a more orderly way and finish on time. For example, attendees might be locked out of speaking again until everyone has had an equal chance to speak. Cisco is also adding real-time translation, starting in February, in 10 languages.
Cisco Senior Vice President Jeetu Patel, who heads the business unit, said the company is aiming to make Webex interactions 10 times more effective than in-person meetings by automating time-consuming follow-up activities and making the software and hardware able to read and respond to human behavior.
Webex has about 600 million monthly users. Companies including International Business Machines Corp., Facebook Inc and T-Mobile USA Inc. are among its customers.