Cisco Webex tackles background noise with BabbleLabs acquisition

AI processing on Webex Meetings will be used to suppress background noise and enhance speech clarity

Cisco is planning to integrate artificial intelligence (AI) technology from BabbleLabs into its collaboration division to improve the audio quality of participants in Cisco Webex meetings and remove background noise.

BabbleLabs specialises in developing AI that can detect speech, distinguish this from background noise, and use speech enhancement tech to improve the quality and clarity of speech.

Cisco plans to integrate BabbleLabs’ engineers into its Collaboration portfolio, and will begin by adding this enhanced audio experience to Webex Meetings, which should work regardless of the device being used to connect.

This processing will be implemented on the client-side, too, meaning audio will be suppressed and enhanced before transmitted to meeting participants.

"A great meeting experience starts with great audio," said Jeetu Patel, senior vice president and general manager with Cisco’s security and applications unit.

"We're thrilled to welcome BabbleLabs' team of highly skilled engineers. Their technology is going to provide our customers with yet another important innovation – automatically removing unwanted noise – to continue enabling exceptional Webex meeting experiences."

Background noise suppression is a feature that’s already embedded in a number of video conferencing services owned by rival providers, including Zoom and Microsoft Teams. Zoom has featured a form of background noise suppression for some time, although a recent update aims to improve the standard of this feature, which has been temperamental in the past.

Like many other video conferencing providers, Cisco Webex has enjoyed a surge in users following to the rise of remote working. In March, the platform registered a record 324 million total users for the month.

Microsoft, by way of comparison, boasted 75 million daily active users for its Teams platform as of 30 April. Zoom, meanwhile, said it reached 300 million daily active users during the height of the pandemic, although later clarified this to suggest it meant meeting participants as opposed to daily active users.

When the BabbleLabs acquisition closes, its team will join Cisco’s Collaboration Group, led by senior vice president and general manager Javed Khan. The collaboration division is part of the Security and Applications Business, led by Patel.

The integration also forms part of Cisco’s plan to improve the audio experience before, during and after a meeting. While the AI processing will apply in real-time during a meeting, Webex will also automatically send meeting notes and action items afterwards, while improving the ‘waiting room’ experience before.

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