Cisco held the first hybrid version of its annual, mega ‘WebexOne’ event with over 20,000 attendees tuned in virtually and more than 1,200 participating onsite.

However, by a wide margin, the most popular ‘guest’ was artificial intelligence (AI). AI dominated the announcements, supporting Cisco’s commitment to inject the technology into every nook and cranny of Webex.

The announced capabilities graced multiple areas (including audio and video intelligence, collaboration, CPaaS, and contact center), echoing the ‘permeate the platform’ approach recently adopted by competitors such as Google, RingCentral, and Zoom.

Broad brush Cisco

Cisco has executed broad brush strokes with spotlight-grabbing introductions. The most compelling example is ‘Webex AI Assistant’ (now available), the main vehicle through which Cisco is instilling AI across the full Webex portfolio. Users will outsource mundane and time-absorbing tasks to the interactive virtual agent, allowing them to focus on activities that will increase their productivity and value to their organizations.

Also captivating is Cisco’s pioneering, proprietary real-time media model (RMM – upcoming). RMM takes audio and video streams that have been enhanced with new Cisco generative AI codecs and supplies them to large language models (LLMs) for the creation of outputs (such as meeting summaries) and action items (such as follow ups with employees who missed the meeting).

Attention to detail

Cisco has also taken lighter, finer brush strokes with more focused, yet still impactful, capabilities. Two such examples are its own AI codec (coder/decoder), which delivers clearer speech for both meetings and calling and exclusive ‘Super Resolution’ technology that delivers high-definition video at lower bandwidth. The audio codec leverages AI to provide audio absent of distractions (such as background noise) in the face of network disruptions (such as packet loss).

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The video codec applies machine learning techniques to provide high-definition video regardless of bandwidth conditions.

Hardware steals the scene

Software was one side of the story. In a supporting role, hardware was a scene stealer and remains a strong selling point for Cisco. Cisco announced several devices and related capabilities that make meetings more equitable for attendees within a meeting room, as well as between meeting room attendees and remote participants. Cisco statistics indicate that 98% of meetings have at least one remote participant while only 15% of conference rooms are video enabled. The new hardware offerings are designed to exploit that gap.

Cisco rides the storm

Cisco is riding the winds of change that have swept across hybrid work platforms. The pandemic drove the ascent of these platforms, and competitors responded with successive rounds of feature wars. Cooler heads eventually prevailed, and a ‘cease-fire’ was issued in the form of interoperability between competing platforms. Now, things have come full circle to a degree with competitors reaching deep into the AI ‘bag of tricks’ and circulating AI features platform-wide.

Cisco is seeking to separate itself from the pack by touting AI innovations across both software and hardware. Long-standing expertise in collaboration, networking, and security place the company in a unique position to do so.