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Cisco's Spark Collaboration App Now Does Something Slack Doesn't: Voice and Video Chat

There may be a response brewing from Slack.

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Networking giant Cisco Systems says it will add voice calling and video conferencing features to Spark, its cloud-based workplace collaboration app.

Launched last year as Project Squared, Spark is similar to Slack, the ubiquitous office messaging app.

Cisco would very much like to compete with products like Slack, which has about a million users, and features widely requested in Slack are voice and video calling. Cisco has the hardware and the history of supplying infrastructure to link a Slack-like service with the phones and other equipment many companies already have.

Cisco’s plan, which takes effect today, calls for adding voice telephony and video conferencing into a single unified experience. What starts as a phone call can, at a click, be converted into a video meeting. Video calls that begin on a meeting room system can, at the swipe of a screen, move to a mobile device.

Spark will also be enabled for existing Cisco-made desktop telephones and video conferencing systems by way of a Cisco cloud service, says Rowan Trollope, Cisco’s senior VP for collaboration. Once a user is joined to the new service, making a call from one of the supported phones creates a virtual meeting room that allows sharing content and other information, he says. It’s also integrated closely with mobile phones like the iPhone. “When you’re in a room and using a Spark-enabled phone, it will sense other devices nearby,” Trollope said.

Collaboration was a $4 billion business in Cisco’s most recently completed fiscal year, making it the company’s third-largest segment by revenue after switching and routing equipment. About a billion dollars of that is WebEx, the Web-based meeting and presentation service.

More details will be coming after an event at which both Trollope and Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins are expected to speak and demonstrate the new product. And there may be a response brewing from Slack. That company has invited reporters to an event in San Francisco next week.

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