WebEx is a Cisco company that was founded in 1996 and provides webinar and online meeting solutions for small businesses and enterprise companies around the world. Cisco WebEx’s webinar service, Events Center, is scalable and flexible. As one of the market leaders, we were intrigued to see if WebEx deserves all that market share.
Event Center allows for up to 3,000 attendees per webinar. Organizers can facilities real-time presentation and application sharing on the browser-based webinar software. Event Center comes equipped with standard engagement features such as threaded Q&A, private chat, and instant feedback icons. Event Center also allows organizers to charge attendees, create and distribute customized surveys, and integrate leads generated on the webinar with CRM systems.
Organizers and attendees who respectively create and sign into an Event Center webinar automatically interface with WebEx’s end-to-end IP architecture called the “WebEx Cloud” (previously known as Media Tone). Cisco’s WebEx Cloud works by routing traffic through their network to achieve higher speed and reliability, or, in other words, better quality of service. Sounds complicated, but read on to see if it gets the job done.
Attendees need to download a plug-in to attend Event Center webinars. Chrome and Firefox users will be prompted with a Java plug-in and Internet Explorer users will be prompted with an ActiveX plug-in. Attendees can manually download the requisite Java and ActiveX plug-ins beforehand. The download and installation should take under a minute. Conscientious organizers should send customized invitation emails with a link to the requisite software and the tech support number.
Webinar organizers can optionally choose to password protect the webinar as well. Organizers can also choose to charge attendees using PayPal, which is seamlessly integrated with Event Center.
Event Center allows webinar organizers to create customized surveys with multiple choice and long answer questions. Organizers can send surveys to attendees after the webinar to obtain reports, which can be exported as Excel documents. Event Center’s standard reporting suite provides information about who registered for the webinar, who attended the webinar, and duration of individual attendance.
Webinar organizers can download a WebEx plug-in for Microsoft Outlook and schedule meetings and webinars using the local desktop application on the Windows operating system. WebEx does not provide any plug-ins for desktop applications on OS X.
Event Center is compatible with most modern hardware and software. Event Center is not compatible with Internet Explorer 6 and the chat feature is not available on Internet Explore 7. The Mac 10.4 operating system is not supported by WebEx; however, all Mac operating systems after 10.4 are supported.
The WebEx iOS app is compatible with iPhones and iPads running iOS 3+. For iPhone and iPad users WebEx is supported on i0S 3+. The Android app supports 2.1 and up. These apps allow users to attend a webinar, schedule a webinar, and start a webinar. You can video conference from your phone or tablet but you cannot share any media. Both apps are free.
Due to practical constraints, I was unable to host a webinar with 3,000 attendees to test the reliability and speed of Event Center. I did host a few small webinars however, and found the interface to be intuitive. The screen sharing, presentation sharing, and video recording all broadcasted seamlessly without lag (so I guess WebEx Cloud works?). Recordings are organized neatly and are therefore easy to navigate.
I decided to check if WebEx’s customer service was as good as the product. The first time I called, I was on hold for about two and half minutes and was then directed to voicemail. I called back and waited on the phone for another five minutes, after which I was finally transferred to a customer service representative who was unable to answer my questions. The customer service representative transferred me to a technical representative who was able to answer my questions, but contradicted information that was given to me by another technical representative. For example, I asked about the aforementioned WebEx Cloud and two separate technical representatives referred to the network as Media Net and Media Tone, respectively. A customer service representative told me he had never heard of WebEx Cloud. I give customer service a C-.
Another significant drawback for Event Center is that attendees must download plug-ins before entering the webinar. Webinar attendees may have, perhaps unknowingly, disabled downloading Java or ActiveX plug-ins. Attendees will have to wait for the plug-in to install before being able to join, potentially throwing the webinar off-schedule.
Event Center has three pricing tiers, each one allowing organizers to host an unlimited number of webinars:
100 Attendees for $99/month
500 Attendees for $379/month
1000 Attendees for $479/month
For 100 attendees per webinar, Event Center will run the same cost as GoToWebinar at $99 /month. The only downside I could find with WebEx Event Center was the poor customer service.
If you or someone in your organization is tech-savvy and probably won’t need customer service, WebEx Event Center is a powerful webinar solution. In addition, if you need to accommodate more than 1,000 attendees, Event Center is really your only commercial choice. However, if you are expecting fewer than 1,000 attendees, and are terrible-customer-service-phobic, then you should probably stick to GoToWebinar instead. However, Event Center and GoToWebinar both require attendees to download plug-ins that may prevent the attendees from registering for a webinar. Webinar organizers who do not want their attendees to have to deal with required plug-ins should take a look at our MegaMeeting review.