Cisco Webex gets major updates including chat and real-time translation at WebexOne event

Cisco announced major updates to Webex that make the video conferencing app a more direct competitor with Slack, Microsoft Teams, and Google Meet.

Cisco announced a major update to its Webex video conferencing and online meeting software at the company's WebexOne event on Tuesday. Webex is getting a host of new features for meetings, but also a discreet chat functionality. The new chat feature makes Webex more competitive against major players in the digital collaboration market, such Slack , which Salesforce plans to acquire , Microsoft Teams , and Google Meet .

"Cisco's purpose is to power an Inclusive Future, and collaboration technology plays a critical role in leveling the playing field so everyone is able to participate in the global economy regardless of geography, language and personality type. This is why we are driven to deliver a Webex experience that is 10x better than in-person-and at the same time make in-person interactions 10x better too," said Jeetu Patel, Cisco SVP and GM, Security & Applications, in a press statement.

New Webex features for meetings

The new version of Webex is available today and will have the following features: 

  • Noise cancellation and speech enhancement: Using artificial intelligence (AI) and and machine learning (ML), the system will detect and automatically suppress background noises while at the same time amplifying the speech of the meeting participant.
  • Transcriptions and closed captioning: Automatic meeting transcription and real-time closed captioning
  • Highlights and action items: Lets meeting participants use verbal commands to have Webex Assistant perform specific actions
  • Enhanced video layouts: New slider control that lets you change the video layout of a meeting
  • Webex Huddle: A single-click method for starting a spontaneous meeting with with other Webex users
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Webex Gestures

Image: Cisco

In addition to these features, Cisco released a roadmap for future Webex updates, which include:

  • In-meeting gestures: Using AI, Webex will translate hand gestures, such as a "thumbs up," into a graphic that everyone on the screen can see. Expected in CY 2021.
  • Immersive sharing: Allows meeting hosts to have their camera video over top of a shared presentation, video or application. Similar to what video game streamers do on Twitch . Coming in CY 2021.
  • Real-time translation: Translates the active speaker's speech into text in 10+ languages in real time during a meeting. Expected in February 2021. Languages include: English, Spanish, French, German, Mandarin, Portuguese, Arabic, Russian, Dutch, and Japanese.
  • Save and share meeting artifacts: Meeting artifacts and recordings are instantly saved within your Webex app. View recordings in your Webex task bar or within the content section of 1:1 and group spaces.
  • Really big meetings: Webex will support meetings up to 25,000 "fully participating" attendees and the Webex Events streaming service will allow you to host events with up to 100,000 attendees.
  • Meeting templates: Create meeting "templates" that control how the meeting is conducted. For example, you could create a "round table" template that prevents attendees from speaking multiple times until everyone has spoken once.

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New Webex features for messaging, calling and analytics

  • Messaging: AI-powered filtering of important projects, spaces and people (expected Q1 CY 2021); manual highlighting and pinning of messages (expected Q1 CY 2021); automatic sharing of recordings to 1:1 or group spaces specified by the user (expected February 2021)
  • Calling: Interactive voice response and video on hold (available now); escalate phones calls to a Webex meeting (available now); new calling plans with PSTN delivered directly from Cisco (mid-December 2020 in US, Q1 2021 in Canada, CY 2021 more countries globally)
  • Analytics: Using Webex Graph, People Insights can identify trends for individuals, such as when their day typically starts and  the time they spend on video calls. For teams, People Insights can aggregate and visualize interaction patterns within Webex.

Revamped Webex Contact Center

In addition to new features for meetings, messaging, calling and analytics, Cisco is updating Webex Contact Center, the company's SaaS offering for call centers and customer service organizations. Updates include:

  • New  microservices architecture and open APIs
  • Ai-powered chat bots
  • Integration with Webex Experience Management
  • Text and social are now supported along with the system's existing support for chat, email and voice
  • Improved support for small and medium businesses

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By Bill Detwiler

Bill Detwiler is Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop support specialist in the ...