Cisco Enhancing Webex Speech Experiences With BabbleLabs Acquisition

By Patrick Moorhead - September 16, 2020
Cisco & Babblelabs

Amidst the biggest pandemic in modern history, work from home seems to be here to stay for some. With most businesses forced to send its workforce home amidst the Covid-19 pandemic communication and collaboration tools, they are begging for audio and video improvements to make a better collaboration experience. Remote working tools went from a nice to have to essential in a matter of days when employees were sent home with their notebooks and desktops for an unknown amount of times. Work is no longer bound to the office. It happens in the living room, the home office, the coffee shop, or anywhere the employee happens to be, and before Covid-19, the airport. There is always something going on in the background that causes unwanted background noise, whether that is a dog scratching at the door, someone unloading the dishwasher or doing laundry, crinkling lunch bags, or talking in a public environment. The need for removing background noise is more critical than ever. Background noise affects the effectiveness of collaboration and can ultimately stunt worker productivity.  

Last week Cisco announced that it intends to purchase BabbleLabs, a known expert in speech enhancement technology. Over the previous three years, BabbleLabs focused solely on noise removal and speech enhancement. Cisco uploaded an announcement video recapping the potential partnership, and you can access that here. The video also demonstrates how background noise detection and deletion work in real-time to improve video conferencing. The acquisition will likely be a good value add to Cisco's WebEx meetings platform that allows employees to collaborate via video conferencing and screen sharing. Crisp audio clear of background noise is a vital part of a good collaboration experience. 

The announcement  

Last week, Cisco announced that the company intends to purchase BabbleLabs to improve its video meeting experience with WebEx. The acquisition will close in Q1 of 2020, pending closing conditions and approvals. When the deal finalizes, the BabbleLabs team members will join the Cisco Collaboration Group. SVP and general manager Javed Khan leads the group which ultimately sits within the Cisco Security and Applications Business led by Jeetu Patel.

For those that are not familiar, WebEx is Cisco's video conferencing solution that allows users to meet in any place, securely on a wide variety of devices. The application enables users to host online meetings while using HD video, audio, and screen sharing. Ninety-five percent of Fortune 500 companies use Cisco Collaboration, which means hundreds of millions of users across some of the world's biggest companies will use BabbleLabs speech enhancement tech. I will wait until the integration takes place to comment on the UX of WebEx post-acquisition.

The acquisition of BabbleLabs will mean drastic audio enhancements to Cisco's WebEx platform very quickly. Cisco's long-term intention is to fully integrate BabbleLab's speech enhancement tech into its entire collaboration portfolio, including collaboration endpoints, conferencing and messaging, and workspaces, but that will likely take some time. To me, the acquisition makes much sense. With the purchase of BabbleLabs, Cisco strives to create a more intelligent and secure collaboration platform that allows users to boost productivity. I see this acquisition as a strong commitment aimed at improving Cisco's video conferencing experience quickly.  


Who is BabbleLabs? 

Now that we have touched on the importance of sound audio and video for collaboration, we can talk about the master of speech enhancement technology, BabbleLabs. BabbleLabs has been designing and implementing speech technology since the company's founding in 2017. The company's headquarters are in Campbell, California, and currently, employ 33 team members. BabbleLabs' speech technology uses AI to distinguish background noise from human speech in real-time and automatically removing the unwanted noise. BabbleLabs has a security-focus within its technology. The technology processes noise at the source 100% of the time, which is on the client-side. This security protocol will be complementary to Cisco's security by design techniques.  

According to Cisco's press release, BabbleLabs technology goes beyond just background noise suppression including, distinguishing speech from background noise, real-time removal of background noise, and elevating communication by enhancing the human voice regardless of spoken language.  

I also listed some of the key highlights of BabbleLabs speech enhancement technology below.  

  • Available for Android, iOS, macOS, Windows, and Linux  
  • Can support ten streams of audio per X86 core  
  • Can support up to ten streams per ARM core using V8  
  • Range of sampling rates including 8, 16, 32, and 48KHz  
  • 10ms algorithmic latency, and 10/20 ms frame buffers  

Wrapping up  

Cisco's intent to acquire BabbleLabs is timely, especially when considering that video and audio collaboration platforms are the backbones keeping workers connected while working from home. With large amounts of enterprise workforces shifting to remote and work from home environments, the need for reliable and secure audio free of background noise is at an all-time high. The number of employees who work from home and remotely will likely continue to rise even after the Covid-19 pandemic. Despite not being in the office, businesses must continue to operate and collaborate to keep moving forward and meet business goals. The acquisition of BabbleLabs by Cisco is excellent, in my opinion. It shows that Cisco is taking the future of collaboration seriously and putting the actual dollars to improve its video conferencing experiences. The real winner here is the customers who use WebEx and Cisco's other secure collaboration tools and devices to stay connected.

Note: Moor Insights & Strategy writers and editors may have contributed to this article. 

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Patrick founded the firm based on his real-world world technology experiences with the understanding of what he wasn’t getting from analysts and consultants. Ten years later, Patrick is ranked #1 among technology industry analysts in terms of “power” (ARInsights)  in “press citations” (Apollo Research). Moorhead is a contributor at Forbes and frequently appears on CNBC. He is a broad-based analyst covering a wide variety of topics including the cloud, enterprise SaaS, collaboration, client computing, and semiconductors. He has 30 years of experience including 15 years of executive experience at high tech companies (NCR, AT&T, Compaq, now HP, and AMD) leading strategy, product management, product marketing, and corporate marketing, including three industry board appointments.