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Cisco, Microsoft, Zoom: Comparing One to Another

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As I noted in my recent No Jitter article, “Putting Microsoft, Cisco, Zoom Under UCaaS Lens,” these providers didn’t meet the minimum seat requirement for inclusion in the annual UCaaS scorecard published a few months ago by IT research firm Omdia. But these three do offer an array of capabilities that set their communications/collaboration solutions apart from the rest when looked at from a platform perspective.
In “Cisco vs. Microsoft vs. Zoom: Clearing the WFH Fog,” a premium seminar that took place earlier this month as part of the Enterprise Digital Conference & Expo, Brent Kelly, principal analyst/consultant of Kelcor, and Phil Edholm, president PKE Consulting, took a deep dive on the communication and collaboration capabilities these vendors offer. Here are some top takeaways.
  1. Team Collaboration — Basic Cisco Webex Teams and Microsoft Teams functionality, such as messaging and file storage, are quite similar, Kelly said. Differences come primarily in integrations, so those are worth closely examining. One to note for companies with mixed Microsoft and Cisco environments is Webex Calling for Microsoft Teams, he added. Zoom, in the meantime, doesn’t have a [team collaboration] offering, but that is coming based on roadmap information Zoom has shared with analysts, they said. “Until then, [Zoom has] a nice persistent chat capability … that works reasonably well.”
  2. Meeting Join — When returning to the office, most users are going to want low-touch or no-touch joining experiences in a conference room. In addition, some platforms support the ability to join meetings from a mobile app in proximity to the room system.
  3. Meeting Controls — Once you enter the meeting, control look and feel, ease of use, and functionality are similar for Microsoft, Cisco, and Zoom desktop and mobile solutions, Kelly said.
  4. Grid View in Video Meetings — Zoom has gotten “quite a bit of play” with its ability to support a view with 49 people on screen at one time in a seven by seven format, Kelly said. Cisco’s max is 25 people at one time, in a five-by-five format, and Microsoft’s is nine people in a three by three format. Grid size “becomes really important when you’re in a classroom… I think about how important it’s going to be for some time into the future,” he said.
  5. Backgrounds — To address the issue of meeting fatigue, these providers offer users the opportunity to change up the backgrounds for meetings. Two of the most common options are virtual images and blurred backgrounds. All three platforms allow users to add their own backgrounds by selecting a picture from their personal library. However, be aware that the use of virtual backgrounds could cause some distortion. The ability to reduce meeting fatigue will come down to the type of background selected, Kelly noted.
  6. Video Quality — Image quality varies across platforms, so if users are going to be in meetings all day long, you may want to pay close attention to the differences (see below). You’ll really have to scrutinize video quality, though, because at a high level, they all “look really good, [and] it might be hard to tell the difference,” he said.
  7. Audio Quality — To illustrate differences in audio quality, Kelly played a clip of a dog barking and displayed the audio waves from each platform. Subtle quality differences were apparent with noise cancellation applied — so this is something to example closely, too. Audio quality “can make a big difference” in meeting experience, he said.
  8. AI and Background Detection — Microsoft has introduced Together Mode, a capability through which it can isolate each meeting participant and insert them individually in a virtual background, as shown below. This enables the ability to show more people in the same space, Kelly said.
  9. Telephony — In terms of telephony, for most users, any of the phone systems have adequate capabilities, like call, hold, mute, transfer, and voicemail. But “Cisco Webex Calling, based on BroadWorks, “has the most advanced feature set,” Edholm said. “It’s been around the longest, and has hundreds of features.”

As you evaluate your communications and collaboration platforms, be sure to keep factors such as the ones described above in mind.

This article has been updated since its original posting.