Video Conferencing Wars Enter Next Phase

    Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Zoom was just one of several collaboration platforms trying to make cloud-based video conferencing a mainstream service. In the days after the COVID-19 pandemic, Zoom became part of the everyday lexicon of millions of people. Most everyone now knows what a Zoom call is.

    Much of that success had to do with one simple factor: Zoom’s main attraction was that it was free to use for 40 minutes for conferences limited to 100 users. At a time when end users were required to work from home almost overnight, Zoom provided a means to instantly collaborate. There was no need to set up contracts or commit to a specific interval of usage.

    The Zoom Boom

    Since the outset of the pandemic, Zoom Video Communications, Inc., has gone on to become a dominant force in what was once a nascent market dominated mainly by Cisco’s WebEx platform and the GotoMeeting offerings from LogMeIn. Zoom most recently reported total revenue for the third quarter of $777.2 million, up 367% year-over-year as organizations increasingly opted to subscribe to service plans spanning everything from small teams to large enterprises.

    For its full fiscal Year 2021,  Zoom is now forecasting it will generate revenues between $2.575 billion and $2.580 billion. Of course, nothing breeds imitation more than success. Microsoft has expanded the capabilities of its Microsoft Teams platform, while new entrants such as Google look to gain a foothold.

    Cisco Revamps WebEx

    However, it’s Cisco that may be in a better position given the installed base of WebEx. While WebEx as a platform written in Java was already showing its age prior to the pandemic, Cisco has now revamped the platform. New capabilities being added to the latest version of WebEx include noise cancellation and speech enhancements that mute background noises such leaf blowers, transcriptions, and closed captioning; tools to track meeting follow-up items; and a WebEx Huddles capability for setting up impromptu meetings.

    Cisco has also launched WebexOne, a suite of pre-configured integration with third-party applications that also makes available a set of software development kits (SDKs) and application programming interfaces (APIs) for extending the platform to other applications

    Other forthcoming capabilities include:

    • The ability to recognize gestures
    • The ability to share presentations and videos in background
    • Real-time language translations
    • The ability to control how much time is allotted to any one speaker
    • The ability to have a session with as many as 100,000 attendees.

    Next year, Cisco WebEx will also improve its messaging app that tracks which projects, spaces and people are most important and automatically share recordings with specified users.

    Cisco’s Senior Vice President and General Manager for Security and Applications Jeetu Patel notes that the company will also be making it much easier for end users and organizations alike to consume WebEx directly from Cisco rather than a cloud service provider or telecommunications carrier.

    “Adoption in our mind is the closest proxy to valuation,” says Patel.

    Cisco claims there are more 600 million users a month participating in WebEx meetings, but the company doesn’t break out WebEx financials separately. There are approximately a billion users of digital platforms worldwide, notes Patel, so there’s still plenty of room for upside for all the vendors trying to grab a piece of one the fastest growing market segments in all of IT.

    Challenges Ahead

    The challenge, of course, is going to be convincing a significant portion of those end users to switch platforms while at the same time trying to hold on to as many existing users as possible. That may prove difficult for Cisco to achieve now that rivals such as Zoom, which runs on the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud, and Microsoft both have the financial resources to innovate just as quickly.

    Mike Vizard
    Mike Vizard
    Michael Vizard is a seasoned IT journalist, with nearly 30 years of experience writing and editing about enterprise IT issues. He is a contributor to publications including Programmableweb, IT Business Edge, CIOinsight and UBM Tech. He formerly was editorial director for Ziff-Davis Enterprise, where he launched the company’s custom content division, and has also served as editor in chief for CRN and InfoWorld. He also has held editorial positions at PC Week, Computerworld and Digital Review.

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