Cisco’s Patel: Our AI, Networking Prowess Makes Webex ‘Categorically The Best’ Collaboration Platform

‘Networking, security, collaboration and observability—all of these things start to come together. Those are the four businesses we’re in and each business makes the other business better. That’s the beauty about the flywheel effect that you get with Cisco,’ says Cisco Executive Vice President and General Manager of Security and Collaboration Jeetu Patel.

Cisco took to WebexOne 2023 to showcase AI-powered updates to its flagship Webex platform, new video devices, and enhancements to its cloud-based contact center offering, all aimed at fueling the future of collaboration. [Published Oct. 26, 2023]

Cisco Systems’ popular Webex collaboration platform is getting more powerful thanks to AI and because it’s leveraging the strength the tech giant has in its other businesses like networking —something its collaboration competitors don’t have, according to Jeetu Patel, Cisco’s executive vice president and general manager of security and collaboration.

“Networking, security, collaboration and observability—all of these things start to come together. Those are the four businesses we’re in and each business makes the other business better. That’s the beauty about the flywheel effect that you get with Cisco,” Patel told CRN during WebexOne 2023.

The tech giant at the event in Anaheim, Calif., this week unveiled a series of new AI-powered features and functionality being baked into the Webex platform.

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“I can actually look into anyone’s eyes and say this is categorically the best product in the market that’s about to get 10X better,” Patel said of the updates.

[Related: Cisco Injects Generative AI Into Security, Collaboration Portfolios For ‘Reimagined’ Customer Experiences]

AI-Powered Collaboration Features

Cisco Wednesday introduced new Real-Time Media Models (RMMs) in Webex designed to pick up on visual and audible cues, such as gestures or an individual walking out of the room during a meeting. These AI-based RMMs will enhance audio and video quality by using these actions and object recognition as context, Patel said. The models will also be able to give Webex users real-time insight about their meetings and collaboration sessions.

Patel said Webex will be able recognize that a meeting participant stepped away and capture meeting notes to bring that person up to speed when they return.

“This [technology] allows us to deliver insight like no one else can,” said Javed Khan, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco Security and Collaboration.

Also rolled out Wednesday was the new Webex AI Codec, which will ensure clear audio and video regardless of bandwidth, Cisco said.

Network impairments or connectivity issues often occur for many users, especially those working in hybrid settings. These issues can take a toll on calls and meeting quality. To that end, Cisco’s new Webex AI Codec is a generative AI offering that will redefine real-time communication and solve the challenge of audio quality, regardless of network conditions. The audio Codec works by allowing for transmission redundancy to recover from network packet loss. Even just 5 percent to 7 percent packet loss will start to impact audio, Patel said. The new technology gives users “crystal-clear” audio, even with up to 80 percent to 90 percent packet loss in certain instances, he added.

“We made the compression and the transmission so efficient that we can have 1/16th of the bandwidth that’s needed,” Patel said.

The new codec also has built-in speech enhancement features, such as noise removal, de-reverberation and bandwidth extension, Cisco said.

“You can’t have a delay on the audio and video side of things. That’s where we feel we have a fundamental [edge]. … Doing that in real time is a different art,” Khan said.

Similarly on the video quality side, Webex will apply machine learning techniques to improve video quality using Super Resolution, the company said. Videos will be able to be scaled down to 270p and then dialed back up to 1,080p.

“That’s happening because of generative AI. When we talked about generative AI, it’s not just for text, we’re doing it in audio and video,” Patel said. “This is what Cisco does. We know how to go out and make sure that we can manage packets effectively. We are a networking company at heart, so we’ve been able to go out and use that core heritage to build something that’s fundamentally different.”

Cisco’s recently introduced Webex AI Assistant, which is already embedded in Cisco collaboration devices, now includes a new set of features that pull in RMMs and Large Language Models (LLMs) to improve communication and collaboration for hybrid workers and contact center agents.

The new Webex AI Assistant features include Change Message Tone, which offers recommended changes to tone or phrasing within Webex Messaging and Slido. An example that Cisco gave was that Webex AI Assistant may suggest changing a stern response such as, “This isn’t good” and rework the summary to “This is a fantastic document, but the up-front summary could use some improvement.” Another new feature is Suggested Responses to messages, a capability for contact center agents responding to customers across digital channels that pulls in context history from the conversation and any previously added customer data.

Meeting Summaries, another new feature, lets users catch up on missed portions of meetings or entire meetings in real time with a summary of what was missed that will be organized into chapters and highlights. Message Summaries, on the other hand, will recap unread messages. These summaries can be customized so that a user can ask Webex AI Assistant to summarize messages from their boss only, for example. Meanwhile, Slido Topic Summaries generate common topics shared in an interactive Q&A and polling during virtual and hybrid events so that participants can easily see what’s trending, Cisco said.

The new AI-based capabilities are in various stages of availability. Shipping is slated to begin before the end of 2023, Cisco said.