Cisco brings WebEx to iPhone

Free app lets iPhone users enter meetings without WebEx subscription

Being out of the office without a PC will no longer be an excuse for missing meetings on Cisco Systems' WebEx Meeting Center and Unified MeetingPlace conferencing systems.

On Tuesday, Cisco introduced a free application, available from Apple's App Store, that lets iPhone users participate in WebEx virtual meetings. They can participate in the audio portion of the meetings; use text chat; and see presentations, applications, and PC desktops that are shown as part of a meeting, according to the company.

[ To learn more about which software programs now run on Apple's mobile device, read iPhone apps get down to business. And for InfoWorld's complete coverage of the show, see our special report on Macworld Expo 2009. ]

The application, which Cisco had hinted at last year, is the company's latest move to make multimedia content and collaboration accessible anywhere. Cisco has gone in a few years from simply making the networks that connect PCs and servers to supplying platforms that individuals actually use on those networks. The high-definition TelePresence Meeting system is the flagship of Cisco's collaboration lineup, while its WebEx and MeetingPlace acquisitions have brought an online conferencing service and LAN-based meeting capability, respectively.

Now Cisco is bringing the hottest smartphone on the market into the picture, embracing a product that has taken off as a consumer rather than an enterprise device. Consumer devices and services have a powerful influence on enterprises' technology directions, according to Cisco CEO John Chambers. In fact, the company is expected to use this week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas to unveil a set of home electronics products.

Users of the iPhone don't need to have a WebEx subscription to participate in meetings with the new application. With the software installed, they can join a meeting by clicking on a link in an e-mailed invitation or by choosing a meeting listed within the application. The WebEx system will then call the iPhone, and the user can join in by picking up the call.

Simultaneous voice and data meetings will work on Wi-Fi or 3G mobile data networks, according to Cisco. On the slower GSM/EDGE networks used by first-generation iPhones, it can handle voice or data, but not both at once. The software can deliver the audio portion of a meeting using regular voice service from a carrier or the VoIP capabilities of WebEx or MeetingPlace.

A future version of the application, coming in the second quarter, will provide the same capabilities for meetings on MeetingPlace. When users come into the office, the new version will let them shift from the iPhone to a PC and a desktop Cisco Unified IP Phone and keep participating in the meeting. When they leave, they can shift back to the iPhone.

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