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Cisco Introduces Webex Classrooms and the Webex Control Hub

Cisco has announced several updates for its Unified Webex application in September. Significant changes include the introduction of Cisco Webex Classrooms and the Webex Control Hub, with notable updates also coming to Webex for Education, Webex Meetings, and Webex Teams.

Currently in closed beta mode, Cisco Webex Classrooms aims to enhance Cisco’s appeal to educational institutions that are engaging in hybrid or distance learning. Key features of Webex Classroom include:

  • A unified view of all courses, course details, calendaring, links to virtual classes, attendance automation, and post-class transcriptions and recordings.
  • Integrated Webex Teams messaging for student online collaboration.
  • Enabling educators and students to join using their institution’s credentials with SIS integration.

Webex Classroom complements the series of updates that Cisco is rolling out for Webex for Education. These updates include:

  • Ability for educators to lock their virtual class door. Only signed-in users can join unlocked virtual classroom meetings directly, with the lobby bypass for unauthenticated users removed. Only the host (the teacher) can admit guests by choice. Hosts can also configure a timer to auto lock the virtual classroom and also to eject participants in the lobby after a set time.
  • Enhanced breakout room session capabilities. Hosts can now move students between rooms, add additional breakouts within a room, check in and out of a room, and also broadcast messages to one or all breakouts.
  • Ability to livestream lessons.
  • Improved visibility of the hand-raising functionality.
  • Integration of the Webex Assistant to help transcribe and view class notes.
  • New support for Schoology.

Cisco continue to improve its enterprise collaboration tools, too, especially with its recent acquisition of BabbleLabs. This acquisition intends to bring noise removal and voice enhancement natively to Webex. Using AI and local processing, Webex will be able to distinguish human voice from background noise no matter where you are and also enhance your voice no matter what language is being spoken. This functionality will be available in fall 2020.

This news follows a string of updates for Webex Meetings and Webex Teams for September:

  • Breakout rooms will be available in Webex Meetings.
  • Webex Teams can capture polls.
  • Webex Teams can enable deskphone control from your laptop for a contactless workspace.
  • Webex Asisstant can be paired or used for voice controls.
  • Users can also expect background blur/replacement, 50% video packet loss compensation, real-time captions and transcription, and whiteboarding.

Webex Room Kits are also now Cloud Video Interop (CVI)–enabled for Microsoft Teams, improving software/hardware integrations for meeting rooms.

Finally, the new Webex Control Hub simplifies call management and security for the Unified Webex app. These features include:

  • For Webex Calling, the Control Hub enables virtual on-net extensions, phone number activation, caller ID, call record analytics, media quality, and configuration.
  • For Webex Teams, all calling functionality can be accessed. This includes visual voicemail, call forwarding, single number reach, do not disturb (DND), open call preferences, audio and video calls with sharing, hold/resume, transfer, merge/conference, and deskphone/room device pairing.
  • For Webex devices (Webex Board and Desk Pro), users can add web apps directly from the Webex Control Hub.
  • For security, users can configure the Webex Teams app on managed mobile devices using AppConfig, block file preview notifications, block users from sharing files when not on the corporate VPN, and block both upload and download, which can be based on IP address or IP address ranges.
  • Admins can also create user groups from the Active Directory using Cisco Directory Connector without leaving the Webex Control Hub. This allows admins to restrict confidential or sensitive content sharing to groups on the basis of need.

Source: Team Messaging and Collaboration Data Quadrant at SoftwareReviews. Accessed: September 6, 2020.

Our Take

Cisco is pulling out all the stops to ensure it leads the way for not only remote work but also remote education. Indeed, it is difficult to think of any other communication and collaboration suite that matches the extent of the capabilities available within Cisco’s Education licensing. Office 365 might come close with its A licensing, but Microsoft Teams surely falls short of the range of capabilities Webex Teams and Webex Meetings can offer, especially the advanced breakout room feature. SoftwareReviews thus lists Webex Teams and Webex Meetings as leaders in the Team Messaging and Collaboration marketspace and the Web Conferencing marketspace, respectively.

Source: Web Conferencing Data Quadrant at SoftwareReviews. Accessed September 6, 2020.

Moreover, with the acquisition of BabbleLabs, Cisco puts the pressure not just on Microsoft but also on other best-of-breed web conferencing software for background noise reduction and voice enhancement. End users will welcome not needing to listen to their colleagues slurp on their coffee during online meetings anymore!

However, Cisco continues to confuse with the range of tools available in the Webex Unified app, especially when many of these tools overlap in capability (e.g. Meetings, Calling, and Teams). With Webex Teams beginning to solidify its place as Webex’s go-to collaboration tool, it will be interesting to see whether Cisco decides to merge Webex Meetings and Webex Calling into the Webex Teams umbrella – especially since Webex Teams now has full calling functionality.

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