Lots of people are using and talking about online meetings and group video calls, but what if you don’t know where to start? This blog will help you to get to know a few of the more popular free online conferencing systems in use and how to get started, but first have a think about why you want  to use an online conferencing tool as this will most likely influence the choice you make.

What do you want to use online conferencing for?

  • Keeping in contact with friends or relatives – group video calls
  • Working from home – screen or file sharing, virtual whiteboards
  • Keeping your clients informed or online teaching – one to many, cross platform capabilities

If you want to use it to work from home, then sharing your screen and documents so that they can be reviewed together as well as security may be important. If friends or relatives want to stay in touch with each other, then ease of use for everyone involved could be a priority. Finally, if you want to reach out to lots of clients, you may be more interested in how many users can be on one call for free as well as security.

I have reviewed the more popular free systems below and scored them for ease of use, business features, security and shown the number of free users allowed.

zoom

Zoom

Who had ever heard of zoom before coronavirus? Zoom software was launched in 2013 by an ex employee of the Cisco video conferencing software – Webex (more of which later). Zoom seems to have become the video conferencing software of choice for governments and educational establishments across the World – the daily average users rose from about 10 million in December 2019 to about 200 million in March 2020. It’s popularity stems from the fact that it is really easy to use and you don’t need to download anything to attend a call – just click on a link. It has screen-sharing capabilities, unlimited one to one video calling, and integration of applications like Google Calendar, Slack workspace messaging, Evernote, Twitter, and Youtube. The biggest issues with Zoom are security and data privacy practices – they have now undertaken to focus on these issues before releasing anymore new features.

SMARTERHOMES-DORSET RATING

Ease of Use Business Features Security  Free Users
    laughinglaughinglaughing          laughinglaughinglaughing       laughing 100 for 40mins
WhatsApp

WhatsApp

WhatsApp is easy to use, but registration is tied to a mobile phone number. The phone (Apple or Android) has to have the application installed on it, so it needs to be a smart phone. You can download messenger apps for tablets and Apple or Windows based PCs, but they synchronise through the mobile phone being attached to the same Wi-Fi network. WhatsApp have recently increased the number of video users to eight which means it really only useful for keeping in contact with a few friends or relatives who have smart phones.

SMARTERHOMES-DORSET RATING

Ease of Use Business Features Security  Free Users
    laughinglaughinglaughing              frown   laughinglaughing          8
Messenger

Messenger

Messenger is Facebook’s application for sending messages as well as connecting voice and video calls with friends or groups of friends. While it is easy to use, it’s downfall is its connection with Facebook. Previous to December 2019, it was possible to sign up for Facebook Messenger using your phone number and nothing else, but you can no longer sign up if you don’t have or have never had a Facebook account, which means for family groups it may not be the best choice

It has good security features – end to end encryption which means no-one can intercept calls and messages, but many are suspicious of Facebook’s data privacy record – data collection, is after all their business. Finally Facebook is seen as a social networking site and so you would probably be less credible using it for business use (unless you already communicate with your clients through Facebook).

SMARTERHOMES-DORSET RATING

Ease of Use Business Features Security  Free Users
     laughinglaughing               laughing    laughinglaughing          50
FaceTime

FaceTime

If you have devices from Apple, then iMessage is your go to messenger application, which also supports group video calls through FaceTime. If all of the people you want to contact have Apple based devices then this is the one to use, if they don’t then this is a non starter as it is not available outside of the Apple kingdom! End to end encryption ensures that nothing can be intercepted, but there are few business related capabilities, and unless you work for Apple, are you sure that all of your clients have Apple based devices?

SMARTERHOMES-DORSET RATING

Ease of Use Business Features Security  Free Users
     laughinglaughinglaughing               frown    laughinglaughing          32
Cisco Webex

Cisco Webex

 

As I mentioned earlier, this is the system thaat Zoom was born from. Like Zoom their free tier supports up to 100 users for 40 minutes. But there are a number of features that are more business related, such as

  • File and whiteboard sharing
  • Q&A, polling and raise-hand features
  • Interactive whiteboards
  • Unlimited messaging and file sharing
  • Mobile screen sharing

SMARTERHOMES-DORSET RATING

 

Ease of Use Business Features Security  Free Users
     laughinglaughing          laughinglaughinglaughing    laughinglaughing          100

Conclusion

There are of course many more video conferencing systems out there, and you may have your own particular favourites.

My recommendations are:

For Personal and limited Business use: Zoom can be used for both personal and business use if you are not too concerned about call security or user data integrity. The risks are low, but they are there (although Zoom have said they are working on these areas as a priority).

For Business Use: Cisco Webex is the goto application to use – it can be accessed from any device and through a web browser and has more business related functionalty than Zoom, and is a lot more secure.

If you have any comments, please let me know and if you need any help in setting up, then please do get in contact!