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How to choose your videoconferencing tool

Both the business and social worlds are suddenly being run via video chat. Which is the right platform for the right job? BRYAN TURNER provides an overview.

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With numerous videoconferencing platforms available, and varying demand from employers, colleagues, associates, friends and families, it can be difficult to choose which one is right for your purposes. There may be platforms you’ve known for years, and platforms you’ve just discovered this year, but choosing the right platform is essential for engaging your audience or merely for comfortable communications. 

Before diving in, several platforms charge in terms of “per host per month”. “Per host” means when one signs up, that person will be able to host videoconferences on their account – and doesn’t apply to the entire domain i.e. john@example.com doesn’t allow everyone with a @example.com account to host a room. Typically, a company would need one account to host one room at a time, but several accounts will need to be purchased to host several rooms at a time. 

This guide does not address security issues and advice – that will come in a separate guide. Meanwhile, here is a broad overview of the main platforms and applications in use by most people: 

Skype – Old reliable 

Since 2003, Skype has connected audiences all over the world with its peer-to-peer platform, meaning that connections are made directly between computers. This allowed Skype to grow to 10.8-million daily active users just one year after its release in the early 2000s. These days, it seems lost in the sea of videoconferencing apps, and many are left wondering: is Skype still good? 

Skype is still very feature rich and is available as an app on almost every operating system, including Linux. It is ideal for groups of audiences with less than 50 participants. It also offers screen sharing capabilities, as well as an option to record the meeting. The catch is that everyone is notified of the recording and anyone will be able to download the recording afterwards.  

Because Skype is pre-installed on all Windows 10 machines, since it is owned by Microsoft, it can be used if you know your user base will be primarily Windows based. However, it is also available for Mac. 

Benefits: 

  • Free to use. 
  • Up to 50 participants. 
  • Wide installed base lowers barrier to install. 

Plans: 

  • Free to use for videoconferencing – no limit on time or participants. 
  • Charges apply to calling landlines or mobile phones – costs vary by time and country.  

Zoom –  “the new Skype”  

In the early 2000s, video chat users would say “Skype me when you get home”. Now, it’s far more common to hear, “Zoom me later”. When remote working took off in March 2020, Zoom went from 10-million daily active users to 200-million within days, thanks to its easy-to-use interface and simple set up.  

Zoom is ideal for conducting business meetings with the less technologically inclined. However, on the free version, users can have their meetings cut short, as they are restricted to just 40 minutes. Recordings can be made, and all participants will be notified that a recording is taking place. On the free version, recordings are saved directly on the machine of the meeting “owner”. On the paid plan, recordings are saved in the cloud. 

 Zoom is advised for maximising audience join rates, because it’s simple to join and easy to use. The only issue is when communicating with firms that have blocked Zoom usage. Zoom is banned by many US organisations, from Google to NASA to Tesla, and that practise is spreading in South Africa. 

Benefits: 

  • Easy to use. 
  • Large installed base. 
  • Powerful webinar platform with strong tools, e.g. raising hand, applause emoji, Q&A. 

Plans: 

  • Basic: Free to use for videoconferencing – time limited to 40 minutes if hosting 3 or more participants. 
  • Pro: $14.99 per month – ups time limit to 24 hours, adds cloud recording, reporting, analytics, and user management 
  • Business: $19.99 per month per host (actual charge starts at $199.90 per month, as a minimum of 10 hosts are required for this plan) – includes Pro features, removes time limit, increases number of participants in a room to 300, and adds vanity URL.  
  • Enterprise: $19.99 per month per host (actual charge starts at $1999 per month, as a minimum of 100 hosts are required for this plan) – includes business features, increases number of participants in a room to 500, unlimited cloud storage for recordings. 
  • Additional extras: on Pro, Business, and Enterprise, you can add the following for an additional monthly cost: 
  • Webinar features: Starts at $40 per month for 100 participants. Price scales on number of participants. 
  • Extra Zoom room: $50 per month per room. 

Microsoft Teams – Skype for Business’s replacement 

Skype for Business had a good run and has since integrated with Microsoft Teams – a unified communication platform for businesses. Teams offers a lot more than videoconferencing: it’s a tool that’s used by businesses for project and document collaboration, and incorporates file storage and embedded web applications.  

Teams is ideal for those who want to host meetings internally. It has functionality to synchronise meetings with Outlook calendar and makes it easy to join meetings from an Outlook notification. Users can jointly edit Microsoft Word documents, update Excel spreadsheets, and go over PowerPoint presentations, while in a video conference. Up to 250 people can join a video chat at once, but the platform only shows the latest 4 speakers at a time. 

It’s not the simplest application to set up from scratch, so use Teams if other people in your organisation are using it already, or you need a platform for collaboration. 

Benefits: 

  • Integrated with Microsoft 365 – fits into many business’s existing platforms. 
  • Allows for collaboration in documents while on a call. 
  • Large participant size for calls – 250 participants. 

Plans: 

  • Free for businesses with under 300 users. 2GB cloud storage per user, 10GB across all teams. 
  • 365 Business Essentials: $5 per month per user – 1TB storage per user, meeting recording functionality, video conferencing meetings for up to 250 people and online events for up to 10,000 people. 
  • 365 Business Premium: $12.50 per month per user – same features as Business Essentials but includes the traditional desktop Office apps like Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. 

BlueJeans – The audio quality winner (in theory) 

BlueJeans is the dark horse of videoconferencing platforms: it’s simple to use and the audio quality is backed by Dolby Voice. It also makes use of industry-leading audio encoding, which means your voice will reach the other side in higher fidelity than via other services.  

BlueJeans is ideal for those contacting bandwidth-strapped audiences, because it creates an audio and video connection that can cater to those with a slower or turbulent connection. That said, a highly variable connection that cuts off frequently can’t be helped by any videoconferencing platform. BlueJeans only offers a paid tier but has a 30-day free trial to test out its services. 

BlueJeans can be used if you’re communicating with companies that block Zoom usage. 

Benefits: 

  • Works well with slow or turbulent connections. 
  • High quality audio experience. 
  • Easy to use app. 

Plans: 

  • Paid-only plans include a 30 day free trial with 100 participant limit. 
  • Standard: $9.99 per host per month – up to 50 participants. 
  • Pro: $13.99 per host per month – up to 75 partipants. 
  • Enterprise: price on request – can host up to 100 participants. 

WhatsApp Video Calling – A mobile-first approach 

While WhatsApp is a personal platform for many, it’s one of the most readily available tools for those who rely mainly on a mobile data connection. Using a mobile phone for video calling is different to using a desktop platform, primarily in that the video will likely be viewed in portrait mode. 

WhatsApp video calling needs a lot of patience, especially if some of the participants are in an area that has no Wi-Fi and has poor signal. A WhatsApp video call is limited to 4 participants at the moment, but there are reported plans to increase this limit to 50 in the near future. 

WhatsApp should be used when no other platform is available to the parties involved. Because WhatsApp is a personal-first tool to many, consider personal-work boundaries when calling on WhatsApp: set up appointments to call in advance. 

Benefits: 

  • Large installed base. 
  • Mobile-first with little set-up. 
  • Multi-person video conferencing. 

Plans: 

  • Free download for iOS and Android. Hosts up to 4 participants with no time limit. 

Cisco Webex The compliance king 

If you’re looking for end-to-end encryption, Cisco Webex is the one to choose. It offers Zoom-like simplicity inside a secure shell. 

While it’s very feature rich, be careful of falling for the compliance trap. If end-to-end encryption is enabled, a bunch of features fall away, including the ability to record meetings. End-to-end encryption can also exclude a segment of the audience with dated computers, because Webex has high minimum requirements. 

Webex is ideal for communicating with compliance-minded audiences, because it covers many security bases. 

Benefits: 

  • Straightforward, easy to use interface. 
  • Security and compliance focused. 
  • Offers a similar feature set to Zoom when end-to-end encryption is turned off. 

Plans: 

  • On free plan – temporary: Up to 100 participants per meeting, no time limit.  
  • Starter plan: $13.50 per month – Up to 50 participants per meeting, no time limit, up to 5GB of cloud recording for meetings. 
  • Plus plan: $17.50 per month – Up to 100 participants per meeting, no time limit, analytics portal. 
  • Business plan: $26.95 per month – Up to 200 participants per meeting, no time limit, with domain claiming. 

Tincan and string 

Ideal for those with no connectivity or electronics, and who only need to communicate over very short distances. 

Benefits: 

  • Low-cost. 
  • Can stay in pyjamas. 
  • Parts easily replaceable. 

Drawbacks: 

  • Only allows for 1-to-1 communication. 
  • No recording. 
  • No ability to block background noise. 
  • Doing your own cable repairs may violate lockdown rules. 

Plans: 

  • Make up your own – Manage your own lines. 

For World Wide Worx strategic guidance, media training, and presentations on technology trends, contact Arthur Goldstuck on arthur@worldwideworx.com or phone +27-83-3264345 

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