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Cisco seeks better voice quality with BabbleLabs buy

Cisco acquires California-based BabbleLabs to enhance Webex voice quality through better noise suppression, a feature already used by competitors Google and Microsoft.

Cisco plans to acquire background noise suppression specialist BabbleLabs, the latest in a series of acquisitions to add advanced technology to the Webex video and collaboration platform.

BabbleLabs is a Campbell, Calif., startup whose Clear Edge application reduces outside noise from audio communications. Other companies Cisco has acquired to improve Webex include business intelligence startup Accompany in 2018 and Voicea, a provider of transcription and voice search technology, in 2019.

The acquisitions provide Cisco with needed technology while also scooping up startups that rivals Google and Microsoft could acquire, said analyst Jon Arnold of J Arnold & Associates. With BabbleLabs, Cisco tackles a significant problem in voice communications over mobile phones, softphones on a PC or video conferencing.

Suppressing background noise helps people focus during business calls and video conferencing sessions, analysts said. Noise reduction also fights video call fatigue, a phenomenon in which the required concentration can tire a person faster than in a physical group meeting.

"It makes the audio value greater," Arnold said.

Cisco needed BabbleLabs to match the noise-suppression technology used by Google and Microsoft, according to Arnold. Google has developed its own technology and Microsoft partners with Krisp. 

BabbleLabs' Clear Edge application filters sound on a mobile phone or PC without sending the audio to its cloud, analysts said. The company developed technology originally for PCs with seed money from Dell and Intel.

The need for better noise filtering to eliminate common background noise, like pets, kids, and air conditioners, has grown with the increased use of video conferencing by people working from home. Therefore, noise suppression technology "will continue to become a major feature with rapid and continuous enhancements by the major conferencing vendors," said IDC analyst Wayne Kurtzman.

Cisco, which announced the acquisition this week, expects to complete the transaction by the end of September. The company did not release financial details.

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