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Cisco ramps up collaboration software portfolio

The networking giant gives a big boost to its Unified Communications offering, turns WebEx into Web app platform, and gives its TelePresence tool more expertise.

As Wall Street struggles to redefine itself, Cisco is busy this week introducing its latest wave of collaboration products to compete with Microsoft, IBM and Oracle.

"It's a major launch for us, including a comprehensive update to our Unified Communications platform, a new collaboration client for WebEx and Telepresence Expert on Demand," said Rick McConnell, vice president and general manager of Cisco's Unified Communications division.

Cisco's Unified Communications release 7.0 adds support for Windows Mobile, in addition to Symbian and Blackberry. iPhone support is in the works, McConnell said, but Android support is not planned at this point. It also interoperates with collaboration suites from competitors such as Microsoft and IBM. McConnell said that the software suite no longer requires a router for connections from a remote location, such as a home.

WebEx, the Web conferencing service that Cisco acquired in March 2007 for $3.2 billion, has been turned into a Web applications platform. WebEx Connect includes e-mail, calendaring, team spaces, bookmarking, and document sharing, and integrates with the Unified Communications portfolio. Like, Facebook and other Web platforms, WebEx will allow third parties to build applications (widgets) that integrate with the platform and sell them through a marketplace. Cisco plans to add soft phone, video phone, speed dialing, and federated presence widgets.

PostPath and Jabber, two recent Cisco acquisitions, will be build into WebEx Connect for e-mail and instant messaging in the coming months, McConnell said. WebEx will be priced in the sub-$10 range per seat per month.

The WebEx platform.
The WebEx platform. Cisco Systems

Cisco has also found a way to make its high-end, $300,000 TelePresence videoconferencing product more attractive to large corporations with multiple locations. Telepresence Expert on Demand provides integration with the Cisco Unified Contact Center, dealing with scenarios in which an expert can be summoned to a session. For example, a bank branch could call upon an expert in financial planning to meet with a customer via Telepresence.

"With the Telepresence system installed, you hit speed dial, which integrates with the Contact Center and rounds up an expert to address questions," McConnell said.

Most of Cisco's $40 billion in revenue comes from selling infrastructure to power networks and data centers. Don Proctor, senior vice president of Cisco's software group, called collaboration the "next phase of the Internet" and a $34 billion market opportunity. It's clear that Cisco hopes to bundle its communications hardware and software, creating collaborative infrastructure in a box, as it goes after more share of market and mind with its growing product portfolio.