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Cisco Sees Demand Surge for Webex, Zoom’s Larger Rival

Cisco Systems said its Webex collaboration service is experiencing a staggering jump in use as companies look to find a way to securely connect workers confined to their homes.

(Bloomberg) -- Cisco Systems Inc., the biggest maker of gear that directs internet traffic, said its Webex collaboration service is experiencing a staggering jump in use as companies look to find a way to securely connect workers confined to their homes.

Webex daily meeting volume has more than doubled since the beginning of March and expanded 2 1/2 times from February. At peak hours, volume is up 24 times where it would be normally, the company said.

Cisco’s conferencing business is the biggest provider of such services to companies with revenue many times the size of newer rivals such as Zoom Video Communications Inc. Demand for these services from home-bound employees during the Covid-19 pandemic indicates that work practices will probably change permanently, said Sri Srinivasan, who heads the company’s collaboration unit.

“We will never go back,” he said. “The way we work is going to change forever. Employers are going to be able to hire workers from wider geographic areas because staff won’t have to come to the office as much, he added.

While dropped connections and delays getting into meetings has increased, so far Cisco’s technology has just about kept up with the volume, Srinivasan said. The company was able to learn from the steep increase in traffic in Asia early this year and apply those lessons to the U.S., where volume is still increasing.

The peak volume for traffic is at 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. Monday through Friday. Internally, Cisco has started a process scheduling calls to begin outside of standard times -- not the top of the hour or 30 minutes past the hour -- and is recommending users do the same.

Webex opened a free sign-up and service in response to the virus outbreak that drew 240,000 new subscriptions in the first 24-hour period, the company said. That program mirrors the growth by Zoom, which offers a time-limited free service for its multiparty conference calls and a paid service. Srinivasan said Cisco’s data policies are stricter than Zoom’s, meaning important work that needs to remain private will continue to take place on its system.

Cisco no longer breaks out the performance of its collaboration division. The last time it did, revenue was about $4 billion in fiscal year 2015. Since then, the company has frequently cited the unit’s growth as being one of the fastest among its businesses. Zoom is on course for annual sales of about $890 million in calender 2020, according to the average of analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg.

At the same time the explosion in traffic is helping collaboration providers make better products much more quickly. Cisco uses artificial intelligence to analyze what’s happening on Webex and increasingly to enhance elements such as call-center software. The company typically deals with 39 billion events (logins, calls, videos initiated, messages sent, etc.) per day on its systems. Last week that number increased to 270 billion a day and is still rising.

Regardless of competitive dynamics, Srinivasan said it’s more important that all the services remain stable and continue to improve in order to help with the effort to stop the spread of the virus.

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