Meet online with audio and video conferencing platforms
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With the current spread of the coronavirus (aka COVID-19), a lot of companies are already seeking to make arrangements to accommodate remote working, to help reduce the spread of the coronavirus while also helping to limit the impact on productivity. Here we feature the best in video conferencing software – but also check out our feature on the best collaboration software that home workers can use in conjunction with colleagues in the office.
Advances in technology means that reliable video conferencing has become accessible and affordable, and can easily serve the modern workplace.
This has become important for a wide range of reasons, not least to empower employee flexibility to work remotely from home, businesses having multiple office locations, but also the increasing likelihood that key clients and partners are more likely to be based around the world.
Editor’s note: Looking for a cloud phone system and PBX for your business? If you’re looking for information to help you choose the one that’s right for you, use the questionnaire below to have our partner site, BuyerZone, provide you with information from a variety of vendors for free:What type of video conferencing solution are you considering?Standalone solutionSolution integrated with a business phone systemNot sure
Video conferencing means that none of these issues present the complications they used to, and now meetings can take place online without worrying about technical problems, accessibility, or cost.
Additionally, with increasing concerns about the carbon cost of travel to the environment, it makes total sense for companies to seek to communicate face-to-face online rather than indulge in the wasteful cost to the business and environment in forcing people to travel to meet in a single location.
Normal consumer offerings such as Facetime and Skype have made video communications a normalized part of the conversation process, and the expectation is that businesses will increasingly embrace this technology simply because it offers so many all-round benefits, though some larger corporations remain slow on the digital take-up. Here, therefore, are the best video conferencing solutions on the market.
Best free video conferencing software at a glance
Feature-packed free video conferencing with secure encryptionVISIT SITEUp to 100 participants256-bit TLS encryption40-minute limit for larger meetings
Available for Mac, Windows, Linux, iOS and Android, Zoom Meeting has lots of bases covered. There are free and paid-for tiers to choose from, but even in the free version you can hold either one-on-one meetings, or group meetings involving up to 100 people – however for meetings with three or more participants, there is a 40-minute time limit.
There are some nice touches such as desktop and application sharing, whiteboarding and annotations, and features which you have to pay for in competing product, such as recording meetings in MP4 or M4A format.
256-bit TLS encryption ensure that the meetings you hold, and the files you share within them, are secure. There are plugins available for Microsoft Outlook and Chrome which can be used for scheduling meetings, and administrator have a great deal of control over chat meetings and rooms. Zoom Meeting can also be used as a basic chat tool, but if you’re needs are a little greater – such as needing support for more participants – there are various well-priced packages available.
Skype is very much a household name, which will serve as a strong draw from many people. While Microsoft’s video chat tool is often thought of as being little more than a way of keeping in touch with friends and family, the cross-platform app also supports group video calling for up to 50 people.
Skype can also be used in a browser, which is great for chatting with people without the app installed – you can simply invite them to join in using their email address.
As you would hope, there is a screen sharing option, and to make it easier to focus on who you are speaking to, there is the ability to automatically blur backgrounds. Other handy features include live subtitling of conversations, and the ability to record chats.
If you need to have video meetings that involve more people, Skype for Business is a paid-for upgrade. For a low monthly per-user fee, you gain support for chats with up to 250 participants, Office integration, and stronger security options.
Excellent free video conferencing for small international meetingsVISIT SITENo desktop software necessaryInternational dial-in availableMaximum five participants
FreeConference keeps things beautifully simple for users by not requiring any software to be installed. There are mobile apps available, but it is possible to take part in a video conferencing session from just about any device with a web browser installed. You can participant in text or video chats, and use features such as screen and file sharing – but FreeConference is not without its limitations.
The maximum number of conference participants is five, which rules this out as a tool for many small businesses who may regularly want to host meetings for more people.
A number of international dial-in numbers are available for conference calls, and you have the option of recording calls if you like. Configuring, managing and scheduling meetings is very simple with FreeConference – including from Outlook – and there are some nice touches such as being able to set up recurring meetings. It’s a shame that features such as advanced security, video recording and transcriptions are only part of premium packages, but the free version is still pretty powerful.
Ideal for smaller meetings, on any desktop or mobile deviceVISIT SITEFor desktop and mobileCan be used in web browserVideo chat limited to 10 participants
Google’s range of messaging services never fails to confuse, and even Hangouts is divided into Meet and Chat variants. As Google Hangouts Meet is only available to G Suite customers, it is effectively not free, unlike the basic Google Hangouts service – although its worth noting that Google plans to start migrating users to Google Hangouts Chat. Confused?
Hangouts is a very simple tool that support chatting with up to 150 people, but video calls with only up to 10 participants. There are little in the way of options, but this is about speed and convenience. Hangouts can be used in your browser, and there are apps available for Chrome OS, iOS and Android.
In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, which led to large numbers of people either choosing or being forced to stay at home. Google responded by making it easier for people around the world to world and learn remotely, offering extended Hangouts Meet capability to G Suite and G Suite for Education users for free. Until July 1 2020, Enterprise-level features such as meetings of up to 250 people, recording to Google Drive and more are available for free.
Premium video conferencing features without the price tagVISIT SITEIncludes 1GB cloud storageUp to 100 participantsScreen sharing
With a name like Cisco behind it, expectations for WebEx Meetings are understandably high – and it doesn’t disappoint. While there are various plans available for Webex Meetings, for most circumstances the free version should be just fine. This enables you to hold HD video meetings with up to 100 participants, and to take advantage of options such as screen sharing and private chat rooms.
When you sign up for an account, you are assigned a personal URL that can be used to manage all of your meetings, schedule video conferences, and access the recording you have made.
When it comes to holding a video meeting, you have the choice between using the Webex Meetings app or just sticking with the website, though it could be argued that the desktop apps give a smoother experience. There are also mobile apps available.
The free package includes 1GB of cloud storage, unlimited meetings of unlimited length and the ability to make MP4 recordings of them. Security is catered for by TLS 1.2 and AES 256-bit encryption, and backed by Cisco’s networking know-how means performance is impressive.