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Cisco WebEx Gets Social Collaboration-Fueled Upgrade

The Quad social platform and Callway video bridging service are now part of Cisco WebEx. Learn what other features have been added to the Web conferencing offering.

Bring-your-own-device policies make it easy to work from anywhere --about 96% of small businesses use wireless devices and technology, according to a mobile business users' survey conducted by Cisco Systems Inc. By year's end, about 50% of small businesses expect to have all employees using wireless technologies to work away from the office, the survey found.

In response, Cisco is releasing new features for its WebEx Web conferencing platform in a Software as a Service-based model targeted at small businesses, teleworkers, mobile workers, startups and small offices. New features include high-definition, 720p video; the ability to manage meeting activities, share content and files; integrated instant messaging. Users can also set agendas for meetings, send invites, upload presentations and videos, record meetings, collaborate on files review previous meetings, according to the company. New mobile features include two-way video on iPhone and Voice over IP on the iPhone and iPad.

"To some degree, the new features take a backseat to the rebranding going on here: the Quad social platform and the Callway video bridging service have both been brought under the WebEx umbrella," explained Ian Jacobs, a principal analyst at Ovum. The acquisitions give Cisco a single collaboration brand to push to the market. "That may seem to be only a marketing move, but I hope and assume it goes deeper than that and is actually a statement of intent to bring all these code bases together." If so, that would mean a common interface, or at least a common look and feel, he added.

For the first time, Cisco is offering a free, standard edition of WebEx. Its premium package will run $24 per month for eight users, and $49 a month for up to 25 users. Both paid packages will come with 1 GB of storage.

In terms of the new features, Jacobs said Cisco may be the first of the large enterprise communications infrastructure providers "to really and fully grasp the importance of optimizing social collaboration for a mobile environment. Mobile is often a hard nut to crack; many of the early efforts at the enterprise mobile experience have been about access, in essence making it easier for mobile workers to get to the tools and information they would have at their desktops." But those efforts haven't really gone very deeply into making it easy to use these tools in a mobile environment, he added, since it isn't that easy to switch between applications and tasks on a mobile phone, for example, when compared with a laptop or desktop computer.

"Cisco is working to make it easier for mobile workers, at least those mobile workers using Apple products," Jacobs said. "The ability to seamlessly switch between a social networking environment to collaboration tools like instant messaging or a voice call is a great step in that direction."

Jacobs said he also thinks bringing the WebEx Social environment to the cloud is "a very smart move," given the increase in the usage of mobile devices by Ovum's clients. In terms of competitors, while Microsoft also has unified communications and collaboration tools, it has a large lead in the mobile unified communications space, "so it makes even more sense to solidify the mobility options by offering some form of cloud deployment."

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