With the current pandemic events, the question of what are THE best Video Calling and Video Conferencing Systems out there right now are being asked every day.
Given that Zoom has been make headlines for a number of weeks now, from the phenomenon called Zoombombing through to its privacy concerns around passing data to the likes of Facebook, many are questioning if there are better alternatives.
So in this article we’re tackling this question, and reviewing all of the top Business Video Conferencing Systems, as well as some consumer conferencing systems.
We’ll be addressing each of them to the same standards:
- Headline Statistics (How many people are using each platform, intended use and unique features)
- Ease of Use
- A quick personal opinion on why you might want to use this platform above others.
One thing we’re not going to be focusing on so much is the actual audio and video quality – because, well. It’s 2020 – Everybody can do audio and video just as well as the other now. The key question now is how good your Internet connection is, how fast your wireless connection is, whether you are on 3G or 4G, and so many more things that are outside the control of each of the video conferencing systems themselves.
So lets get stuck in.
44 Million Active Users as of March 2020
Intended primarily for Business to Business Use
Privacy is a real strength of Teams. It’s embedded into the 365 ecosystem and as long as you are taking steps to protect yourself with things like 2FA, you’re generally good to go. Teams also requires you to invite people in rather than opening meetings to the general public so doesn’t have issues that, errrr, other platforms have.
Data is encrypted in transit, and at rest – although there’s little actual detail on what this looks like.
Ease of Use
I would say it’s okay… I’ve been using teams for a while now so it’s all pretty straight forward, but because it’s not just a video conferencing system, for me to comment on the pure video calling features I would say that some things take quite a few clicks and menus to get to. There’s also a fair bit of setup required to get into teams to begin with, typically by your IT Team. Licensing, user creation and so forth.
With that said, if you are a business operating on Microsoft 365 already, then this is a fantastic solution as it wraps around and integrates with so many other 365 products, it makes total sense. Creating video calls between colleagues and team meetings are so easy to do that it’s just easy all around.
With that said, and back to focusing on the pure video calling ability of Microsoft Teams – I would probably summarise as not that easy to get into, but once you’re on a call it’s about on par as any other video calling app.
Pricing Wise – It’s basically free. You can pay to upgrade and open up features like using Teams as your actual phone system, the ability to schedule and record meetings and so forth. But as a plain video calling system, it’s free.
Reliability is a mixed bag when it comes to teams. With this whole pandemic thing, there have been multiple reports of outages, likely due to the strain it’s under with so many millions of new users in a matter of a few short weeks. The last report of 44 million active users is certainly a lot of users, but compared with Zoom’s 200 million users, it’s a concern that they’re not able to handle the traffic.
If we skip to before the pandemic, teams was relatively solid – but there were still the odd issue here and there that would mean you wouldn’t be able to sign in from time to time.
Microsoft are increasing the number of participants you can see on the screen at any one time from 4 to 9 and they are working to increase this limit even further.
Calls are limited up to 250 people and you can stream online meetings with up to 10,000 people via Microsoft’s own Stream service.
This is my favourite pick for business use for those already subscribed to Office 365. It’s more than just a video calling system, it’s a whole collaboration platform. Instant messaging means you can ping messages to colleagues to ask a quick question without interrupting them with a call, you can see if they’re online or away from their desk, it can become a full on phone system for your business – although value wise I don’t think it’s quite there phone system wise just yet, and when it comes to meetings – it integrates beautifully where you can just hit the ‘Teams meeting’ button when setting up an Outlook calendar invite.
You can also record meetings which can later be viewed by your team, people who missed the meeting for example, which is a neat feature.
Google Meet is the new name for Google Hangouts, or maybe it’s Google Hangouts Meet? Although I believe Google Hangouts is still a thing for non-Gsuite users? I don’t know – I’ll be honest here. The whole google naming convention continues to confuse me as they seem to chop and change things so often!
Privacy – From my research, Google states their data is encrypted in transit – but other sources suggest only messages are encrypted, whereas video calls do not have end to end encryption.
Ease of Use
Everything works from the browser here, so there are no plugins to install, or clients to download and setup. This is quite nice as it generally means no awkward discussions over the phone, trying to explain to someone less tech-savvy how to connect in to the meeting.
Like Microsoft Teams, there is also a bit of setup work to do before hand to use this. You need to register for a Gsuite Business account, license everybody and so forth – so not as simple as just making a call like Apple’s Facetime for example.
There is reportedly a free version of Google Meet (free for 6 months during the pandemic), however you will need to contact a Google Partner to request this. Otherwise pricing starts from £4.60 per user per month for the basic version of GSuite, which includes Google Meet as part of it’s features.
Doing some quick Google News searches shows that there have been a few outages this year with Google as a whole, but nothing that has directly affected Hangouts. So that’s certainly good to know, particularly with how flakey Zoom and Microsoft Teams have been during this pandemic.
Google have announced that they are extending their enterprise features to all GSuite users until September 2020, so this extends the number of participants from 100 to 250 and allows access to the live streaming (for internal use only) and recording.
My only comment here is that google has a habit of killing off their own product lines in favour for new products.
For example, late last year it was yet another confusing announcement from Google that they were shutting down Google Hangouts and replacing it with Hangouts Chat and Hangouts Meet. Yet hangouts is still available for non-business customers, even though they’ve reported that they plan to shut Hangouts for all users in 2020. And there’s a new product called Google Duo?
I even discovered a website called KilledByGoogle.com that shows you everything they’ve killed off and the dates. Ouch.
Once again with Google it seems to be a case of many cooks in one kitchen and no single focus on a core product line.
Us consumers shouldn’t have to try and figure out what the difference is between Google Hangouts, Google Hangouts Meet, Google Duo and so forth.
With that said, it looks like a really good option with the free premium features. 250 participants, live streaming for up to 100,000 people (Internally only). This would be able to replace what people are trying to use Zoom for, to run large scale public events, providing they opened up the live streaming function to external sources.
Speaking of Google Duo….
Duo is Google’s version of Facetime, as I understand it. You install the App on your Android or iPhone and then you can make video calls much like you do on Facetime.
It was launched in 2016, and at the end of 2016, Google Duo replaced the Google Hangouts App that was pre-installed on Android devices, so this does indeed seem like the Facetime competitor.
No easy headline stats to compare, but anyone with an android phone will have access to Duo, however uniquely, Duo is also available to non-android users by just installing the Google Duo app on other devices.
End to end encryption is in use for all calls including group calls.
Ease of Use
Google Duo is already pre-installed on any Android phone since 2016, so much like Apple’s Facetime, if you are calling people with other Android devices then this is by far the easiest way to do so – and it makes it that so much simpler to use.
Just like Facetime, it’s free!
I couldn’t find any reports of any outages with Google Duo. So it either has an extremely good reliability factor here, or just nobody is using it so nobody notices the outages…. Who knows!
In March 2020, Google updated Due to have a limit of 12 participants.
For Android users who are calling Android users – this is easily the go to app.
For any cross platform use, this may still be a good option, but you will have to ensure that everybody has the Google Duo app installed on their computer or iphone device for it to work.
Cisco registered a record 324 million users in March, as it’s primary focus is on the business and enterprise space. I would expect that the majority of those 324 million users are big corporates.
Cisco is right up there in terms of privacy and security, as pre-pandemic, security conscious firms such as healthcare, IT and Financial services firms would have been using it. It has end to end encryption, although it’s worth noting that Cisco seem to be on a bit of a run in general in terms of having security holes discovered and subsequently patched.
Ease of Use
Webex is actually very simple to use, much like Zoom, and like Zoom, it prompts you to always use the full client. However, you can skip past this and use it browser based if you really want to.
Webex works on any device, and they also take this a step further for the larger enterprise businesses with a number of hardware options that significantly enhance the experience, providing of course, you have fairly deep pockets.
Free, but you can pay to upgrade to unlock features such as recording, removing the time limit, and more corporate integrations, user management and so forth.
Doing a quick search shows multiple outages recently, creaking at the seams much like other platforms reviewed here.
Up to 100 participants for free with a 40 minute limit, so very similar to Zoom.
Personally I would say that this is traditionally the system that big, blue chip companies use, those who are already invested in the Cisco ecosystem, perhaps with a Cisco phone system already. The likes of say, IBM, Cisco themselves, governments and healthcare – it’s unusual to find a small business using Cisco Webex as their main, paid for video conferencing system nowadays.
Zoom’s daily active users has jumped from 10 million to over 200 million, and along with that incredible growth has come a lot of criticism over privacy, namely ‘zoombombing’.
What is zoombombing?
In March 2020 – those rushing to Zoom discovered that if you shared a meeting link online and publicly, then others could join and take part in a zoom meeting that they haven’t formally been invited to. Because, well – you’d just shared the link to your meeting with the world…. Duh.
But to be honest, the majority – if not all, of these issues have been caused by people mis-using the system itself by sharing meeting links publicly.
Just like you wouldn’t give the world your mobile phone number, you don’t give the world your meeting ID and password.
Something that most people don’t realise is that you can livestream your Zoom meetings through the likes of Facebook and YouTube, directly from Zoom. You do need a paid for plan to do this, but this will allow the general public to watch your live presentation without accessing the meeting itself, and opening yourself open to the possibilities of Zoombombing.
There are some other privacy concerns which Zoom have promised to address – it sending data to Facebook, even though it’s not declared in it’s T&C’s for one, but the phenomenon known as Zoombombing has caused businesses and education establishments across the world to ban it’s use out of fear of being ‘hacked’… Even though it’s actually your own fault for causing the problem in the first place but…. Eh…
Ease of Use
Well, you don’t HAVE to install the client to be able to join a meeting. You can join directly from your browser without installing anything directly onto your computer, unless your accessing on mobile, where you will need to download the app.
It’s free to host meetings with up to 100 participants, but there is a 40 minute limit for any group meetings.
If you upgraded to a paid for plan, starting from £11.99 per month then you remove the meeting limit, access the streaming features but are still capped to 100 participants, which you can pay to add more, but it can get pricey quite quickly. The higher plans jump up further to a minimum of 10 users at £15.99 per user per month for their business plans which give you further customisations, integrations and admin features.
Doing a quick search online shows me an outage on the 3rd of April, 23rd March, and because of the coronI was getting into the depths of around pages 20 – 30 of Google news results for Zoom Outage and even then I couldn’t find any reports of outages prior to said event… So I would say that pandemic aside, Zoom would seem to be pretty stable. But with this pandemic it seems they are struggling with user numbers, as the likes of Microsoft Teams are also having issues with.
As above – up to 100 participants and 40 minute limits to meetings.
Zoom is actually a pretty solid option for most businesses and personal groups of friends wanting to have a group chat. But with that said, my concern is that most people currently using Zoom are doing so, because they don’t realise they already own a product that has all of the features they need.
Most business users will already be either on Microsoft Office 365 or Google Gsuite, and thus have access to either Microsoft Teams or Google Meet.
That said, Zoom does have some brilliant features when it comes to live streaming to the likes of Facebook and YouTube, directly embedded into the App – so there’s some great options there to hold very large scale events, without worrying about the aforementioned Zoombombing.
The vast majority of the world have an iPhone or iPad device within grasp, and the built in Facetime is a very popular way of video calling your friends and family – I know I’ve been using it every day since the lockdown!
Number of Users is difficult to know in terms of actual use, so I’m not going to make any up here.
Privacy, as with most things Apple, Privacy is at the core of everything they do with end to end encryption on Facetime.
Ease of Use
This is where Apple will once again win, for it’s ease of use and simplicity. Which is a little unfair to the other services, because Facetime is installed and available on all apple devices by default – but because of this, there’s no talking through your Nan on how to install or use it. You simply call your nan, and she can accept the call like any other phone call – hopefully avoiding staring at her ear for the conversation whilst she thinks it’s just a regular phone call of course…. Hah!
Free free free! So nothing to worry about there. Well, if you exclude the price for purchasing an Apple device!
From searching online, I couldn’t find a single mention of a Facetime outage. Go Apple!
Well, of course. You must own and use this from an Apple device. Speak to up to 32 people at once, which would… Just be a crazy number of people for a group conversation anyway, so not really an issue here. I guess the other limitations here would be that this is a pure video calling program. You can’t share your screen, chat or attach files or anything within the actual Facetime App itself, which others like Teams, Zoom and such do allow.
This would be my go to for every video call for personal use, for your friends and family – but probably not my go to for business. Typically in business calls you may want the additional features such as chat, screen sharing and so forth, but Apple would rank very highly for me for personal video calls.
If you’re an iPhone user, then use FaceTime.
Android user, use Duo.
Blue chip company – Webex.
Office 365 Company? Go for teams.
Gsuite user? Go for Hangout or Meets or whatever they’re calling it today.
And finally, if you exhaust the list above and still don’t have a solution for you, then Zoom is a very capable solution – providing you take the reasonable precautions in securing your meetings, like setting passwords, closing the meeting once it’s started, and not sharing your personal meeting ID online for the world to see.