Cisco actually offers several different collaboration solutions, though its WebEx Meetings offering, which begins at $19 per month, is probably the most broadly applicable and best-suited for small to midsize business (SMB) customers. You can bundle various services together based on your needs, including training and support centers and webinars. Like StartMeeting, Cisco WebEx Meetings offers a limited free plan and a free trial of its paid features. The service is easy to use and includes some features you won’t find in other video conferencing services, including the ability to have the meeting call you rather than you dialing in. Cisco WebEx Meetings doesn’t offer dial-in conference calls (only web calls) but you can connect it with the service of your choice. It is on the pricy side but Cisco has dropped the price considerably over the past year, which might make it attractive to budget-conscious customers. Still, if you want integrated dial-in numbers and video calls, then ClickMeeting, our Editors’ Choice, is worth a look. Plus, if you’re looking for video conferencing as part of a larger business-class Voice-over-IP (VoIP) service, then look to our other Editors’ Choice winner RingCentral Office (for Business).
Paid plans include Premium 8 ($19 per month for up to eight attendees), Premium 25 ($29 per month for up to 25 attendees), Premium 200 ($39 per month for up to 200 attendees), and Enterprise for which you’ll need to contact Cisco to get precise pricing but which will allow up to 1,000 attendees per meeting. All paid plans include video conferencing with up to seven video feeds, application and screen sharing, meeting recording (audio, video, and content), free mobile apps, and the ability to share the presenter role. CallMe plans are also available in which the conference calls you, but you have to pay a monthly fee starting at $45 for 500 minutes, with a 9-cents-per-minute charge for overages.
WebEx Meetings Free can be used by up to three people, and it also includes a 14-day free trial of the Premium 25 plan. With the free plan, you get one host license, voice-over-IP (VoIP) audio connection (no dial-in numbers), desktop and document sharing, a whiteboard feature, standard-quality video, and 250 megabytes (MB) of cloud storage. Signing up for the trial ups you to 25 attendees, HD video, and adds dial-in numbers.
Helpfully, every time you log in, a message at the top of your dashboard tells you when your free trial ends. However, since you don’t have to supply a credit card, you don’t have to worry about being automatically charged.
Getting Started With WebEx
Sign-up is as easy as filling in your contact information, creating a password, and opting in or out of email notifications from Cisco WebEx Meetings. Then you activate your account via email, at which point you can add a picture and other details to your profile, or skip this if you wish. Then, you can download a Quick Start guide or view how-to videos before you dive in.
Cisco WebEx Meetings’ user interface (UI) has a modern look compared to other services such as StartMeeting and InterCall. The home page has a startup look, with a large “hero” image up top and a long page that you scroll down to see details of the services offered. You can host or join meetings easily right from the home page, which is nice, since some services require you to log in from a custom URL.
Setting Up a Meeting
From your dashboard, you can select from Meet Now, Schedule, or Join by Number. On the right-hand panel, you’ll see upcoming meetings (if any) and recently viewed files. If you choose to schedule a meeting, then you can set time, date, and duration; add invitees, include an agenda, upload files, set a meeting password, choose audio connection, and tick a box to automatically record the meeting.
For the audio connection, you can use WebEx audio (VoIP), another teleconference service, or none. As I mentioned, Cisco WebEx Meetings doesn’t offer its own dial-in conferencing. If you want to use another teleconference service, you input the dial-in number, moderator, and participant codes, and any notes you’d like to include; all of these will then be displayed in your invitation.
When the start time comes, you’ll need to download a Cisco WebEx Meetings extension or run a temporary app to join the meeting. The extension installs quickly but I ran into some trouble here, which also occurred when I downloaded the join.me module in testing. I have a high-resolution (3,200-by-1,800) display and it doesn’t play well with all desktop apps. So the Cisco WebEx Meetings and join.me modules showed impossibly tiny text that could only be enlarged by changing the resolution of my laptop screen to 1,600 by 900 pixels (which, of course, messed up the look of my other desktop apps).
From here, you can choose whether to dial in or use VoIP, share your screen, invite or remind attendees, record, and turn the camera on or off. You can add contacts by importing them from Micrsoft Outlook or from a file, or by adding them manually.
If you’re a Cisco WebEx Meetings member and you’re invited to a meeting, you can click the Join button on the home page and fill in your name, email, and meeting number. Otherwise, click the link from your meeting and join as a guest by supplying your display name and email address.
The Meeting Experience
Hosts can record the meeting (both audio and on-screen elements), mute and unmute attendees, and end the meeting. All participants can use the chat feature. During the meeting, hosts can share their desktop, a specific app, or files from their computer, including video. A module at the top of the host’s screen shows whether sharing is switched on or not, so you don’t leave that feature on after the meeting. You can also share a virtual whiteboard for sketches and notes. All sharing features can be used concurrently with video chat, which is helpful and not available on some services.
When video conferencing, you can have up to seven video feeds at a time. The host can lock and unlock the focus on a participant any time during the meeting; this way, all attendees can see who is talking. Hosts can also protect meetings with a password.
There are mobile apps for Android, BlackBerry 10, Apple iOS, and Windows Phone 8, including the Apple Watch and Android wearables. The latter let you join or host Cisco WebEx Meetings from your smartphone or smart watch. You can also download plug-ins to schedule meetings right from your Microsoft Outlook account. The WebEx Universal Toolkit lets you create multimedia slideshows for your meetings, including Flash animations.
If you run into issues, then searchable Help documentation is accessible from the meeting space. You can also download user guides, watch how-to videos, and access a knowledge base and FAQ. Support can be contacted by phone, by feedback sent via web form, or you can submit a support case (ticket). Phone support is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, but only for paid plans.
To make Cisco WebEx Meetings more accessible to business users who conduct meetings in large conference rooms, Cisco recently unveiled Cisco Spark Board. This 55- and 70-inch wireless presentation device lets you share your screen from Macs, PCs, and mobile devices in a larger format so that larger audiences can view content more easily. Like the Microsoft Surface Hub and the Google Jamboard, the Cisco Spark Board features an interactive whiteboard that lets users conduct brainstorm and design-focused meetings.
If your business is interested in this kind of group collaboration, then you’ll want to skip Cisco WebEx Meetings and just get a Cisco Spark Meetings account. Like Cisco WebEx Meetings, Cisco Spark Meetings lets you conduct remote video calls, but the app can connect to the Cisco Spark Board, giving you the power to write on the whiteboard, schedule meetings on the Spark Board—all from your smartphone. The Cisco Spark Board is not meant for consumer use; the 55-inch version costs $4,990 and the 70-inch version costs $9,990. Both require an additional $199 monthly Cisco Spark subscription. However, anyone can use Cisco Spark Free for three-person video calls and up to 5 gigabytes (GB) of file sharing.
WebEx Is a Solid Conferencing Solution
If you’re looking for a screen-sharing and video conferencing service to go along with your existing dial-in conference service, then Cisco WebEx Meetings is a good choice. It offers all of the features you need for quality web conferencing, including VoIP calling, but you have to supply a dial-in number if you want to use landlines. The Cisco WebEx Meetings UI is easy to use, but the service is on the pricey side. Therefore, it’s worth taking advantage of the free trial to see if it works for you. For a less expensive service with conference calling, check out ClickMeeting, our Editors’ Choice.