COVID-19 made remote work and video conferencing tools almost essential everywhere, from educational institutions to the corporate world. All of a sudden, the need for working remotely and organising meets online was the need of the hour.
Several video conferencing apps and tools including Google Meet, Zoom, GoToMeeting, Microsoft Teams, Cisco Webex, and Jitsi responded to this increased demand by increasing trial periods, slashing costs and enhancing user limits.
Thanks to Google, enterprise-grade video conferencing facilities are now available to everyone. Anyone with a Google Account can create an online meeting with up to 100 participants. However, each of the meetings is limited to sixty minutes.
GSuite users can take advantage of the GSuite plan to plan large-scale meetings of 250 attendees per meeting and live streaming to up to 1,00,000 viewers within a domain for viewing the meeting proceedings.
Google Meet on a desktop is entirely browser-based, and users need not install any application to initiate a meeting. Initiating an impromptu meeting is very convenient: just clock on the “Start a new meeting” button, copy the meeting information, and pass it onto the participants.
The participants join the meeting equally easy, never leaving the browser.
For a more organized and formal setting, meetings, even recurring ones, can be conveniently scheduled from Google Calendar, thus integrating meeting-schedulers into one location.
One of the limitations of Google Meet is that tight-user-admittance control with passwords is not available. Also, only text messages can be exchanged during a Google Meet. Skype may be a good way to go since files can be sent during Skype Meeting, and Skype conversations are end-to-end encrypted.
One other downside of Google Meet is that it is bundled with Google GSuite Plan and cannot be purchased as an individual service.
Several other features such as having a virtual whiteboard to write on while explaining things over call, user-polls, support for webinars, and raise-hands are not available in Google Meet.
Even though they’re available in paid plans of Zoom and GotoMeeting, which are discussed later in this article. One unique feature of Google Meet is that live captions can be generated automatically while people are speaking.
While we haven’t tested it out extensively with poor audio or difficult to understand accents, live subtitle or captioning works pretty accurately for normal conversations.
As with other online meeting platforms, meetings can be recorded in Google Meet, and are automatically saved to Google Drive.
Zoom offers four packages to accommodate a wide range of needs: Basic, Pro, Business, and Enterprise. The Basic package, perhaps sufficient for personal use, allows one to conduct a 40-minute meeting with up to 100 participants.
If longer meetings are needed or if cloud recording space is needed, one may upgrade to Pro package, which gives up to 24 hours of meeting time and 1GB of cloud storage. Options such as custom user ID, admin controls, and reports come bundled with the pro package, which is most suitable for small teams.
For small businesses, the Business package offers extended features such as meetings with up to 300 participants, dedicated phone support, and vanity URLs. A vanity URL would let you customize the links you send out to people, with your business’s name, to help improve your branding.
All these features are accessible with Business and Enterprise packages. Larger enterprises, spread across geographically diverse locations, may opt for Enterprise or Enterprise Plus services which provide space for more participants, unlimited cloud storage and also have dedicated Success Managers, who’ll help you with setup and service whenever needed.
The packages are priced at $15 for Pro and $20 for Business and Enterprise per host per month. To get the Enterprise package, you have to purchase a certain minimum number of subscriptions, and this information needs to be negotiated with the Zoom Sales Team.
Zoom is a good platform for all sorts of remote work and online meetings – classes to businesses to webinars. Some features that are unique to Zoom are virtual backgrounds, simultaneous screen sharing and waiting rooms.
Unlike Zoom, only one screen can be presented or shared at a time in Google Meet. With these unique features and a solid UX interface, Zoom continues to enjoy a big clientele despite its recent security problems that have raised concerns in many of its clients.
Unlike Zoom, GoToMeeting offers only a fourteen-day no-credit-card free trial to try GoToMeeting, after which you need to decide and but one of its paid plans: Professional, Business, or Enterprise. The trial plan offers video meetings with up to 250 participants.
The Professional plan of the GoToMeeting allows you to plan an unlimited number of meetings with up to 150 participants with no meeting time limits.
It’s great is for small meetings in small businesses. But it does not offer features such as setting someone else as the co-organizer for the remote meet, extensive cloud recording, transcriptions, slides to pdf, Assistant, and drawing tools. These features are available in the next plan, Business Plan.
The Business Plan offers several conveniences over and above the Professional Plan. Four such important features are unlimited cloud recording, transcription, Slide to PDF, and Smart Assistant. The Slides to PDF feature allows you to collate the slides in chronological presentation order and share it as a PDF file.
This feature often takes a lot of time when different participants present different slides. Similarly, GoToMeeting’s Smart Assistant, based on Artificial Intelligence techniques, detects action items and prompts them so that these do not escape the attention of the organizer.
This plan covers most of the features of GoToMeeting and is perhaps the most popular plan for small/medium businesses and allows up to 250 participants.
The Enterprise plan, a specialized plan for big organizations allows up to 3000 participants and offers all the features of the Business plan. In addition, the Enterprise plan gives the flexibility of connecting to the conference rooms existing in the organization.
Since this plan may involve bundle discounts or other features, typically this plan needs to be finalized in consultation with the sales team of GoToMeeting.
Microsoft Teams comes in almost half a dozen different variants, making it confusing to choose which one you’ll need. Microsoft Teams is not just video conferencing, however – it comes with access to many other Microsoft services including a chat application, support for webinars and business email.
The free version of Teams, which in itself, is a feature-loaded version, can be used stand-alone or with other subscription plans of Microsoft, like Office 365.
The free version includes unlimited chats, audio and video calls and lets you add up to 300 people to a network of contacts, who you can chat with. Additionally, 2GB of individual storage and 10GB of entire team-storage are offered along with a free version of Teams.
Though Microsoft Teams integrates seamlessly with the features offered in Office 365, the free version of Teams can only be used independently. To integrate Teams and Office, you might have to take one of their paid subscription plans. Users who do not have Teams as a part of Office 365, may sign up for a one year free trial of Teams.
The paid versions of Teams are bundled with Office 365, integrate Teams with other office applications and offer additional features. Office 365 Business, which, for example, offers 1TB cloud storage per user and increases the meeting size limit to 250 is priced at the relatively modest $2/month per user.
If video conferencing is your only need, this should be more than enough, since the more expensive plans only offer more features in other Microsoft tools, and not videoconferencing.
Webex offers three services: Meetings, Teams, and Calling. Cisco also deals extensively with networking and hardware solutions. These hardware tools and Webex Calling, which is solely an audio communication tool, are not touched upon here.
Cisco offers an extensive range of features. Webex Meetings, for example, allows multiple screen sharing – just like Zoom. It also lets you assign participation roles, similar to the model followed in Zoom and GoToMeeting.
Sharing desktop, annotating and working on documents collaboratively, virtual whiteboard, and recording meetings are star features of Webex Meetings. Webex Meetings offers a desktop application to manage all the features and also has an app for cellphone or tablet users.
Webex Teams is a platform to keep teams more coherent even when the team members work from geographically spaced locations.
These add on to the Webex Meetings in terms of creating spaces for chat messages, sharing pictures/files during the Webex Meetings, adding more space after meeting to share presentation files, and creating virtual Whiteboards for editing by group members.
In terms of flexibility and scalability, Webex Meetings and Webex Teams represents great potential since these can handle everything from tiny groups to very large meetings and webinars.
However, choosing a video conferencing service and subscribing to it right away appears to be a little hindrance, since each such request needs to be routed through the sales team to get a price estimate.
Jitsi is a simple video conferencing solution that does not even require one to create an account. On a desktop, Jitsi Meet requires one to add a Chrome extension and from then becomes an instant meeting point. On a cell phone or tablet, a Jitsi application handles all these features without the need for creating an account.
Jitsi Meet Plus, which is a small extension of the Jitsi Meet, offers all the features of Jitsi Meet and in addition lets one schedule and manage meetings from a Calendar. Accessing Calendar, however, requires signing with Google or Microsoft.
Jitsi is available on both Google Play or App Store and can be integrated with Calendar or Slack. Jitsi enjoys the support from a powerful Open Source Community and stands as a simple yet powerful free video conferencing tool.
What Video Conferencing Tool Should I Use?
While we’ve looked at six different services in this article, this is hardly the end of the list. From casual messaging apps like WhatsApp and Messenger to more feature-filled tools like Discord or Slack – all of these come with some form of voice or video chat capabilities.
Deciding which video conferencing service to use primarily depends on your needs, and there’s no way to choose an overall ‘best choice’. In general, if you want a platform fully loaded with features and are ready to pay a monthly subscription, Zoom and GoToMeeting are the way to go.
Microsoft Teams and Google Meet’s premium features suffer the limitation that they cannot be purchased as standalone services, and come bundled with a bunch of other services like business email, cloud storage and document suites.
On the other hand, if paying a subscription fee is a problem, and your needs are limited to small meetings, the free versions of Google Meet / Microsoft Teams should be enough.
Jitsi might come in handy for people looking for customization – since this platform is entirely open source, you could, in principle tailor it to your needs and requirements.