Webex sees record usage during coronavirus expansion, like Zoom

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Chuck Robbins, chief executive officer of Cisco Technologies Inc., speaks during a keynote session at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016.

Chris Ratcliffe | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Zoom has enjoyed plenty of attention for outperforming market indices this year. That’s because more people are using its videoconference software to meet with colleagues, clients and classmates as schools and businesses send employees home to duck the COVID-19 coronavirus.

You might not know know it, but legacy enterprise technology company Cisco is also seeing heavy-duty usage of its Zoom competitor, Webex, where Zoom CEO Eric Yuan was once vice president of engineering.

Webex was founded in 1995 and acquired by Cisco in 2007, long before the Zoom initial public offering in 2019. It isn’t trendy in Silicon Valley. But users don’t care — they’re flocking to it anyway. 

“Our MAU, WAU, DAU — right now it is all-time highs,” Sri Srinivasan, senior vice president and general manager of Cisco’s collaboration group, told CNBC over a Webex call on Thursday.

He was using the acronyms for monthly, weekly and daily active users, a common barometer for people’s engagement with online services. In addition to following those statistics, Cisco also watches a figure it calls engaged user population, or EUP. It shows how much time users spend in meetings compared with that amount one year ago. That’s going up, too, said Srinivasan, who spends a majority of his work hours at his home office in the Seattle-area city of Sammamish and doesn’t have an office at Cisco’s San Jose, California, headquarters.

In February Cisco saw 22 times the amount of network traffic per second it normally gets for Webex service from users in China, Srinivasan said. Traffic also jumped in Singapore, Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong, with three or four times usual levels, he said.

Generally speaking, Cisco hasn’t been making lots of noise about its heightened Webex usage. It removed certain limitations from its free Webex offer, which doesn’t ask for payment details, given impact from the coronavirus last week. In contrast, Zoom’s Yuan told CNBC’s Jim Cramer in February that it was seeing record usage almost every day, and on Thursday Yuan shared a screenshot on LinkedIn showing Zoom ranked No. 3 in the top free apps on Apple’s App Store, ahead of Netflix, Google’s YouTube, and Facebook’s Instagram. (On Tuesday, Zoom was the top free app listed on Apple’s App Store in the U.S.)

The difference in approach might have something to do with the nature of the companies. Zoom’s whole business revolves on virtual calling. Cisco is more diversified, leaning on sales of data center equipment for most of its revenue.

“We don’t care about the conversion rate at all,” Srinivasan said. Cisco doesn’t disclose the financial results for Webex.

Over the years Cisco has enhanced Webex in several ways, including adding automatically generated call transcripts and cutting down on the time it takes to join a meeting, as well as media quality, Srinivasan said. And like Zoom, Webex allows users to show fake backgrounds on video calls instead of their actual working environments.

“Maybe we haven’t done a good job of marketing ourselves,” he said.

People spent 5.5 billion meeting minutes on Webex in the first 11 business days of this month, Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins said on CNBC on Tuesday.

WATCH: Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins on how the private sector can help during the coronavirus crisis

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