Cisco WebEx with High-Quality Video

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Cisco employees have used the Cisco WebEx® Meeting Center cloud service for voice, video, and web sharing since 2008. Growing use of other business video technologies, such as Cisco TelePresence®, has created an expectation for higher-resolution video. Therefore, in 2011, Cisco IT introduced the Cisco® WebEx cloud service providing high-quality video, with 360p resolution and a full-screen theater-mode option. This case study describes how the Cisco workforce uses this version of WebEx for borderless collaboration with any device, how Cisco IT assessed the network to make sure that it could support more video traffic, and the business benefits of the upgrade. Cisco customers can draw on Cisco IT's real-world experience to perform their own network assessments for Cisco WebEx with high-quality video.

Text Box: "In our lab tests, we validated that the new Cisco WebEx service with high-quality video automatically downgraded resolution from 360p when needed, and then gracefully upgraded again as soon as the bandwidth was available."Niisa Carter, Unified Communications Architect


Cisco IT offers a range of business video services, ranging from the Cisco WebEx cloud service to immersive Cisco TelePresence in specially equipped rooms. Cisco WebEx is software as a service (SaaS), delivered from the cloud. Cisco IT pays a per-user monthly fee, entitling the account holder to host and attend an unlimited number of meetings with unlimited minutes.
Cisco WebEx became available to all employees in 2008. Today, the company has 76,000 active WebEx accounts, making Cisco the world's largest WebEx customer. "Employees like seeing video of other people in meetings because it helps them gauge reactions and feel more engaged," says Angela Bhurji, senior manager for visual networking solutions for Cisco IT. "And offering the service in the cloud means that customers, partners, and vendors don't need to purchase special software."
Since Cisco IT originally began offering a WebEx service, employees have come to expect high-definition video. One reason is growing use of Cisco TelePresence technology in conference rooms as well as on employee desktops. "Before, it was nice to have video," says Bhurji. "Now Cisco employees expect it by default."
To provide a richer video experience with Cisco WebEx, Cisco IT decided to take advantage of the latest high-quality video service, with 360p resolution. Before deploying the new service, however, Cisco IT had to assess network readiness for increased video traffic.


In June 2011, Cisco began using Cisco WebEx with high-quality video, gaining the following new capabilities:

Higher resolution video, up to 360p. Video windows are larger than in the previous version, and an even larger window at the top of the Participant Panel displays the active speaker (Figure 1). When not viewing a document or web page, participants have the option to view the active speaker in full-screen theater mode. In addition, they can view up to five other participants beneath the active speaker, as shown on the right side of Figure 1.

Figure 1.

Cisco Employees Can View Applications and Web Pages Plus Video, or Video Alone

Scheduling and participating in sessions is simpler. Employees click buttons on the home page to join the audio teleconference, invite and remind attendees, and share their desktop, application, or document (Figure 2). The first attendee who joins a meeting can be the presenter, even if that attendee does not have a host account.

Figure 2. The Invite and Remind Button Simplifies Conference Scheduling

Integration with Cisco TelePresence technology. Employees, partners, and customers can now join a Cisco TelePresence session from Cisco WebEx. Their display shows the Cisco TelePresence participants as well as shared desktops (Figure 3). People in the Cisco TelePresence room can hear but not see the people joining from Cisco WebEx.

Figure 3.

Cisco Employees Can Now Join Cisco TelePresence Sessions from Cisco WebEx

Improved experience on smartphones and tablets: As part of the company's borderless networks strategy, Cisco IT gives employees a choice of any device to work, including personal smartphones and tablets. Employees were already able to join Cisco WebEx sessions from smartphones and tablets, and the new version of Cisco WebEx makes the experience better. "One reason is that we can start a meeting on an iPhone if we're in a taxi, for instance, and then just touch a button to transfer the call to our office phone," says Kees Gerritsen, unified communications design engineer at Cisco. If the web connection is dropped during a meeting, such as might happen if the employee is riding a train that goes through a tunnel, Cisco WebEx automatically reconnects the web portion of the conference and prompts the participant to click a button to reestablish the voice portion.

Employees on the go can also join the video portion of Cisco WebEx sessions from an iPhone 4 or iPad2 tablet, which have built-in front-facing cameras. Or, they can join the audio portion using other smartphones or tablets, and then hand off the call to a PC or Mac when they arrive at their office.

Performing a Network Assessment

As a cloud-based service, Cisco WebEx with high-quality video did not require Cisco IT to upgrade clients. The first time that an employee joined a WebEx meeting after Cisco IT subscribed to the service, the WebEx Meeting Manager software downloaded in the background.
Cisco IT did, however, need to determine whether bandwidth upgrades were needed to support 360p instead of 90p video. "The first step was a business decision: whether every Cisco office and employee would get Cisco WebEx with high-quality video, or just certain offices and employees," says Chuck Churchill, IT director with Cisco's network and data center services organization.
To make that determination, Cisco IT needed to find out which sites would need bandwidth upgrades to support more video traffic. "For field sales offices in particular, we needed to make sure that high-quality video would not interfere with voice and other business-critical traffic," Churchill says.
Calculating bandwidth requirements was complicated by the fact that Cisco IT previously did not collect Cisco WebEx usage statistics for individual offices. "Even if we had the statistics, the calculations would not have been as simple as multiplying by four to account for the increase from 90p to 360p video," says Niisa Carter, unified communications architect for Cisco IT. "We also need to factor in whether employees are using theater-mode, or whether the active speaker is shown in high-definition or standard-definition video."
Lacking actual usage statistics, Cisco IT estimated individual sites' bandwidth needs by considering the following inputs:

• Circuit type, determined from Cisco IT's internal Enterprise Management (EMAN) software and a third-party network performance tool.

• 95th percentile overall circuit usage, determined using the same tools.

• 95th percentile default queue usage. The default queue contains all traffic other than voice and interactive video. This includes all web traffic, including Cisco WebEx.

• Percent of employees who work in the office, on average, provided by the Cisco Workplace Resources organization.

• Highest percent of employees participating in a meeting, estimated. "To be conservative, we assumed that everyone present in the office would be in a Cisco WebEx meeting," says Carter.

• Percent of those Cisco WebEx meetings including video, estimated.

• Average number of attendees in a Cisco WebEx session, estimated.

• Highest percent of those employees participating in a meeting at peak times, estimated.

• Percent of Cisco WebEx users selecting theater mode, estimated.

• Percent of Cisco WebEx users opting to also view thumbnails of other meeting participants, estimated.

Bandwidth consumption varies depending on whether participants choose to view video in theatre (full-screen) mode and whether they also choose to see thumbnails of other participants on a filmstrip at the bottom of the window. "Estimating bandwidth requirements is more involved than simply adding up the bandwidth needed to display one large video window and five smaller windows, because it also depends on how many of the streams are high-definition," Carter says.

Testing Dynamic Changing of Resolution When Network is Congested

While performing the network assessment, Cisco IT conducted internal tests to validate that Cisco WebEx would automatically reduce video resolution whenever it detected network congestion, and increase it again when bandwidth became available. This feature makes it possible to provide Cisco WebEx with high-quality video to all sites, even those with slower connections. "Cisco IT does not accept compromises in video quality for immersive Cisco TelePresence services, but we decided that occasional lower resolution is acceptable for Cisco WebEx, our most basic, pervasive business video service," says Bhurji.
As an example, the Cisco Vietnam field sales office has low bandwidth and a large staff. If many people joined Cisco WebEx sessions at once, especially if they used theater mode, Cisco WebEx would need to downgrade from 360p to, say, 180p. "In our lab tests, we validated that the new Cisco WebEx service with high-quality video automatically downgraded resolution from 360p when needed, and then gracefully upgraded again as soon as the bandwidth was available," says Carter. "The detection appears to be almost immediate, and the shifts down and back up don't disrupt the user experience."
Based on the testing, Cisco IT determined that no network upgrades were necessary to introduce the latest version of the Cisco WebEx service to all global Cisco offices.
To train Cisco employees on new features, Cisco IT posted blogs with tips and tutorials. "We also trained the support organizations for different business units, the week before the upgrade," says Mwiza Munyandamutsa, WebEx service manager for Cisco.


Cisco IT introduced the high-quality version of Cisco WebEx in June 2011, without any impact on the performance of other applications. The high-quality video enriches interactions within virtual teams and with customers and partners. This achievement helps Cisco IT realize its vision of a borderless enterprise, where employees can collaborate from anywhere, with any device.

Richer Interactions, for More Effective Meetings

More employees are turning on video since the upgrade, and Cisco IT expects the trend to continue as people recognize how much video enriches their communications. "Higher resolution and larger video windows let us see facial expressions, such as a skeptical look or someone opening up their mouth to speak," Bhurji says. "My own experience is that the non-verbal cues helps make meetings more productive." One reason is that employees tend to focus more when they know others can see their facial expressions, and may be less likely to multi-task and need to have questions repeated. "Being able to see who is speaking simplifies collaboration and decision making," says Bhurji.

Integration with Cisco TelePresence

Cisco employees can reserve Cisco TelePresence rooms for ultra-high-quality video and audio interactions with team members, customers, and partners. When participants are not near a Cisco TelePresence room, the new version of Cisco WebEx now makes it easier for them to join. "Before, we could patch in Cisco WebEx users to a telepresence session, but it took several steps and these employees could only join the audio portion," says Bhurji. "Now, adding Cisco WebEx when scheduling the Cisco TelePresence session is as simple as selecting a checkbox." When employees in the room want to start the meeting, they just touch a button on the Cisco Unified IP Phone to launch the WebEx session at the same time as the Cisco TelePresence session.
People joining from Cisco WebEx can see the people in all Cisco TelePresence rooms in 360p video windows, and also see the name of the person talking. The people in the Cisco TelePresence rooms can hear but not see the people joining from Cisco WebEx.

Support for a Mobile Workforce

Cisco employees can use any device for work, including unmanaged devices such as personal smartphones or tablets. The new version of Cisco WebEx improves the experience for employees using mobile clients, including the Apple iPad 2, which includes a camera.

Next Steps

Cisco IT is upgrading to Cisco WebEx 11, which provides 720p resolution. To prepare for the upgrade, Cisco IT plans to use the Cisco Media Services Interface (MSI) to collect voice and video usage information reported by individual office and even by individual participant. MSI can even provide information such as the number of sessions using theater-mode, by office. Another plan is using the Cisco Global Watch service to monitor performance trends. "We'll want a clear picture of how many minutes of video traffic each field sales office is using so that we plan bandwidth accordingly," says Bhurji. "If necessary we'll tweak down the video resolution."
Cisco IT is also investigating whether to use Cisco MSI to identify Cisco WebEx traffic to place it in the video queue instead of the default queue for web traffic. This capability would enable Cisco IT to begin offering a service level agreement (SLA) for Cisco WebEx.

Lessons Learned

Cisco IT shares the following lessons with other organizations that want to evolve their network into a medianet that can support many video endpoints and high video traffic volume:

Realize you do not have to wait to upgrade the entire network to begin using medianet technologies. Cisco is adopting medianet technologies during regularly scheduled fleet upgrades. "We're beginning with the places in the network where we can turn on medianet immediately," says Nedeltchev. "Real-time monitoring helps us meet SLAs and create a quality user experience that increases video adoption."

Begin implementing Cisco medianet technologies in the places in the network that currently are the most difficult to manage. Cisco IT began with home offices and branch offices, by enabling Performance Monitor on the Cisco ISR included with Cisco Virtual Office.

Develop a consistent management strategy. Include policies for provisioning, configuration management, connectivity, and change management.

Keep in mind that the medianet is just one component of a comprehensive IT strategy. "Make sure you take an architectural approach to building a borderless network, complementing video performance monitoring with application performance technologies, energy management, and security," says Sivasankaran.

For More Information

To read additional Cisco IT case studies on a variety of business solutions, visit Cisco on Cisco: Inside Cisco IT


This publication describes how Cisco has benefited from the deployment of its own products. Many factors may have contributed to the results and benefits described; Cisco does not guarantee comparable results elsewhere.
Some jurisdictions do not allow disclaimer of express or implied warranties, therefore this disclaimer may not apply to you.