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Cisco Webex adds real-time translation in over 100 languages

Move over, Zoom and Teams: Cisco’s video conferencing app can now cross language barriers during live meetings without the need for a human translator.

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Cisco’s virtual meeting platform, Webex, is getting a new preview feature that it says puts it ahead of the competition: Real-time, in-meeting translation for over 100 languages. 

Cisco previously discussed this update, originally expected for February 2021, as including 10+ languages, but at release, Webex will be able to automatically translate between “the most commonly used languages, such as Arabic, Dutch, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Russian and Spanish, as well as more localized languages such as Danish, Hindi, Malay, Turkish and Vietnamese,” Cisco said.

“The inclusive features of Webex help create a level playing field for users regardless of factors like language or geography. Enabling global real-time translations is another step toward powering an inclusive future, and an important component of driving better communication and collaboration across teams,” said Jeetu Patel, SVP and GM security and applications at Cisco.

Patel mentions building an inclusive future, a priority that Cisco issued a report about in 2020. “Connectivity is critical to create a society and economy in which all citizens can participate and thrive,” the report said. It also outlines three goals for getting to that point: Creating connections, forging opportunities and including everyone, and real-time translation hits all three points.

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According to Cisco, the new feature will “provide employees with inclusive and seamless collaboration experiences, which is essential to supporting the needs of a workforce that is more globally dispersed than ever before.” Citing a recent report from Metrigy, Cisco said 24% of survey participants reported being in a virtual meeting that included a non-native English speaker. The dominant model, until now, has been employing third-party translation services, which Cisco said cost an average of $172 per meeting. 

Despite having been around for some time, Webex has become just another name in the post-pandemic surge of video conferencing apps, and this new feature could be a way for Cisco to up its ability to compete with big names like Zoom and Microsoft Teams, both of which lack similar translation features. 

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Skype offers real-time translation via Microsoft Translator, but the feature has yet to be added as a real-time feature for Teams meetings, which can only translate IMs between users. Zoom, on the other hand, only offers third-party translation features for adding non-employees to meetings. Even Google Meet lacks real-time translation between languages: It can automatically generate closed-captions in five languages, but Google makes no mention of translating those captions during a meeting.

Webex’s automatic closed captioning between 100 different languages (not all dialects are included) appears to be a first in the virtual conferencing sphere, and it’s an ambitious project. The new feature is available starting Tuesday as a preview for anyone with a Webex account and will be generally available in May. 

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