Cisco to expand mobile collaboration features

New capabilities coming over the next year will include greater participation in WebEx sessions

Cisco will tackle the mobile world over the next year with a series of new features to bring smartphones into business communications, the head of the company's software group said at the Cisco Live conference on Wednesday.

As Cisco creates sophisticated interfaces for collaboration using text, voice, video and other media, mobile phones have been largely left out despite the fact that they are nearly ubiquitous. For one thing, IT departments often have an arm's-length relationship to cell phones. In most IT departments, they represent the largest uncontrolled expense, said Don Proctor, senior vice president of Cisco's software group, in a session at the conference in San Francisco.

Proctor and Chris Chamberlain, a director of product management in Cisco's Unified Computing group, discussed a set of future capabilities for better enterprise collaboration on smartphones. Cisco intends to deliver them by the second half of next year, Chamberlain said. The upcoming features included the following:

- If an employee is talking on a smartphone, Cisco's software can indicate that in the employee's presence information. Coming up, if a colleague sends an instant message to that person, it can be converted to an SMS that can be retrieved on the cell phone without dropping the call.

- A speech-to-text engine will be able to convert a voicemail to text so that a user participating on a WebEx conference can read it without interrupting the conference. The user could then go into a text-based conversation with the sender of the voicemail and also bring that person into the WebEx conference.

- If a piece of content such as a chart came to the smartphone through an RSS feed, the smartphone user could view the chart on the phone and then bring it into the document-sharing portion of an ongoing WebEx conference.

- If a smartphone user in a WebEx conference loses network coverage in a location such as a tunnel, the conference call will remain "anchored" so it can be reconnected after the user regains coverage. That will save the trouble of re-entering sign-on information.

- When employees with smartphones go to a remote office of the organization, they can view a map of the office and view their location in it, detected via Wi-Fi. That map would show available meeting rooms where the employees could start working.

- Once in the meeting room, the remote employee could be notified of resources in the room such as an IP desk phone and video screen and then use those to continue the meeting, controlling the whole process via the smartphone. If the person needed to leave the room, he or she could disconnect from the desk phone and screen but remain in the conference, continuing it outside on the smartphone.

Cisco intends to make these capabilities available on a variety of smartphone platforms. The company introduced an iPhone client for WebEx earlier this year. Cisco intends to use the native interface of each type of phone as much as possible to create a natural and easy user experience, Proctor said.

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