Video calls have become a key means of communication for many businesses (not to mention individuals, families and friends) to keep staff connected, engaged and productive in an increasingly dispersed modern working environment.
While the shift to remote working has been growing for some time according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, today, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, more of us than ever are working from home or other locations, and many of us are using virtual tools as a key part of our daily work routine.
One in three of us now take part in more than 10 online events a month, according to the 2020 Redback Report, which reveals the extent to which the medium has grown this year.
What has also grown is the number of available services through which you can host an online event. You can use apps, software downloads and Cloud-based services to call just about anyone at the click of a mouse or the tap of your finger.
The other thing that has changed is how we can actually join a service in terms of the device we use, which now could be anything from a computer to a mobile phone.
So what’s out there, and will it work for you? Well, that really depends on who you’re calling, and what you want to achieve while you’re doing it.
It pays to compare the different options available to decide what will best meet your needs. Here are a few of the leading options:
- Redback Connect
- Microsoft Teams
- Facebook Messenger
- Google Duo
- Google Meet
Redback Connect is an Australian-based full service video conferencing provider — which essentially means you can use our Cloud-based service to host your own online call, or — for more complex events — get us to manage the whole shebang.
Redback offers web, video and teleconferencing.
A web conference allows participants in distant locations to communicate with each other by logging into a website or using a platform or software.
For web-based services like Redback Connect, there’s no software or plugins to install or download — participants just have to tap or click the link you’ve sent them. And they can do it on any device (as long as it’s got a camera) using any operating system, no matter where the person you’re calling is based.
Web conferencing is generally more cost-effective than HD video because it’s usually enabled through the public internet. As a result, the former may result in lower-quality images and sound than HD, but it’s very effective for day-to-day business communication.
Redback’s platform, on the other hand, is hosted on our own servers so it’s completely secure and uses the world-class Polycom infrastructure which means you’re guaranteed the highest quality user experience.
Like our web-based counterpart, there are no downloads, plug-ins or installs required, and your event can be accessed on any device using any operating system.
For top-quality video conferencing, you need a strong internet connection to support high-definition, and a quality video conferencing bridge — which is the hardware that actually lets participants join a group and connect via the Cloud.
The types of events you can run include virtual meetings, webinars, conference calls and customer support consultations. The features you’ll be able to use include instant messaging, file sharing, screen sharing, polls, Q&A sessions and virtual white boards, which are great for boosting engagement.
There are also no limitations on user numbers for Redback’s services — users just need a reliable internet connection — or the length of meeting time, but bear in mind the number of participants you host and the length of your meeting will impact on how much you pay.
Our systems are also safe, with built-in end-to-end encryption to ensure your calls are private.
You can host online events using free software. But if you want a high-quality experience, it’s worth considering investing in a secure, high-definition audio and video product.
Microsoft Teams was originally built as a competitor to messaging apps such as Slack.
When it comes to the business space, it’s essentially geared for working in the Microsoft Office environment, so if you’re not using Office 365 it’s probably not your best option.
Teams lets you host calls with up to 250 people, you can share screens and text chats can include image and audio files. It can be used via the web or installed on a desktop.
Microsoft has also launched a free personal version of Teams that works on mobile devices, but not desktops (yet). It lets anyone chat, talk, or have video meetings with up to 20 participants.
You’ll need a Microsoft account in order to use it.
Facebook Messenger is primarily a text app that also has video functionality built in, which lets you conduct video or voice calls with an individual or a group.
If you’re making a video call directly from the app, you’ll be limited to eight people, but Messenger now also includes Messenger Rooms, which lets you create a video call room which can host up to 50 participants on your computer.
The main attraction for most users of Messenger are the extras available on the mobile version — namely the special effects. However these are really just for fun and don’t add anything in terms of business productivity or user engagement (albeit a clown nose and rabbit ears can be cause for a few laughs).
Messenger is easy to use and you can call a contact in your Facebook contacts list without the need for a phone number.
Although the company announced in 2019 that it planned to introduce end-to-end encryption as part of all communication across its platforms and apps, that has yet to be implemented.
And if you, or your staff, customers or other stakeholders, are concerned about the social media giant collecting more information than you’d like, you might want to consider other options.
While Messenger offers a ‘Secret Conversations’ feature, it doesn’t cover video, so you don’t really know who might also be listening.
You’ll also need a Facebook account to set up a Messenger account.
While WhatsApp can be used for basic video and voice calls, it’s more commonly used as a text, chat and file sharing app — especially for images and short-form video between friends.
One of the most popular features of WhatsApp, which is now owned by Facebook, is the ease with which you can create new chats, set up groups and search for past messages and conversations.
It also integrates with mobile devices so you can see when messages have been received and tell when they’ve been read.
While its video feature is pretty simple and doesn’t ring any bells when it comes to looks, WhatsApp does make up for some of that with pretty sturdy security features, including end-to-end encryption.
Activating a video call is pretty straight forward: begin a group chat, hit the call button, select the users you want to join, and then tap or click the camera. You can also start a call with one person and then add other people during the call. Group video calls are limited to eight.
One drawback is that video calls are not available in the browser version on your desktop, so everyone will have to download the app, which can be limiting when it comes to the enterprise environment or you’re dealing with clients or prospects who aren’t inclined to install it.
WhatsApp runs on iOS, Android, Mac and Windows.
The COVID-19 pandemic has seen Zoom grow from a start-up to one of the most popular video call apps going around — especially in the mobile consumer space where it has become a popular service for video calls between family and friends, either by video, audio-only, or both.
That growth has come with some challenges, especially when it comes to security issues, with Zoom caught out for claiming to have end-to-end encryption when in fact it didn’t. Most recently it has made moves to introduce tougher security options.
Both Zoom basic and pro plans allow for an unlimited number of calls between two people (each call can have a duration of 24 hours maximum).
But for any more than two users, you’ll be limited to 40 minutes per call which in the era of remote working and social isolation can be pretty restrictive.
Zoom plans allow up to 100 participants to meet — with a maximum of 49 on-screen at any one time — which can be increased to a maximum of 1000 for a paid add-on.
Zoom also allows live and private chats between users, and lets you upload an image as a custom background, apply some virtual make-up to smooth out your skin, and share your screen.
A Zoom Meeting is a meeting that’s hosted using Zoom, while a Zoom Room is physical hardware that companies can install in existing meeting rooms.
Zoom operates on iOS, Android, Mac and Windows.
Primarily an app for one-on-one calls between consumers, as opposed to businesses, Google Duo could be described as the search giant’s response to the success of basic mobile messaging-cum-video call apps such as WhatsApp.
Duo is free to use and, unlike Apple’s FaceTime, it works across both iOS and Android devices. While Duo is more suited to a one-on-one environment, it can host up to 32 users per video call (it was previously 12), and there is no time limit.
However, to get the most out of Duo you’ll need a Google account, because that’s the only way you can use it across different devices.
Duo works using your phone number and lets you call people in your phone’s contact list, but you can only call a contact who is set up on Duo.
Anyone with your phone number or account info, such as your Gmail address, can see that you use Duo and call you using the app, but again, only as long as they’ve got it installed themselves.
Duo offers end-to-end encryption, and works on Android devices as well as iPhone, iPad, the web, and other mobile platforms.
Duo isn’t built to work on Windows, and while there’s a web version that provides a workaround, it’s not something you would expect your clients, customers or prospects to have to deal with. Everyone is also required to have a Google ID.
FaceTime is often a popular choice for Mac OS and iOS fans, as it comes pre-installed on the iPhone, Mac desktop, and iPad.
However, it’s restricted to Apple’s devices and operating systems which presents obvious challenges if you’re trying to hold a video conference with users on a variety of devices.
FaceTime can handle video calls of up to 32 people, allows you to swap back and forth between video and voice, and includes video effects such as text, shapes and stickers.
While it’s easy to use, employs end-to-end encryption, and you can easily reach a contact in your iPhone’s contact list, it’s only for Apple users who want to talk to other Apple users.
Meet is Google’s option for the enterprise space. Although it does have a stand-alone app, most businesses that use it are customers of G Suite, which is basically Gmail, Calendar and Docs, but for business (think Microsoft Office 365 for Business).
You can begin Google Meet meetings from Gmail or Calendar and you can video chat with individuals, groups, or just text chat.
While you previously had to pay to use Meet as part of G Suite, it is currently free to anyone with a Google account, but only until March 2021.
If you’re wondering where Hangouts fits into Google’s video conferencing strategy, the answer is, it probably doesn’t. While technically it still exists, Hangouts has essentially been split into two services: Meet and Chat.
While it’s been around for a while now — it was launched in 2003 — Skype is still a popular tool for communicating online.
Despite being now owned by Microsoft, it can be used on a Windows desktop, as well as Macs and most mobile devices, including iOS and Android.
You can now also access Skype via a web browser and also set up instant calls with people who don’t have an account using Skype Meet Now, however you can only do that on a desktop. On a mobile phone or tablet, you’ll need the Skype app for it to work.
While it’s not as intuitively easy to use as some of its more modern day counterparts, and doesn’t include some of the add-on fun bits (eg. rabbit ears), Skype can call a regular mobile phone number, but you’ll need Skype credit or a Skype subscription to do it.
Another thing to consider is that there is no end-to-end encryption on video calls by default, so essentially there’s nothing to stop Microsoft, or anyone else with the technical know-how, from listening in. You can, however, select ‘New Private Conversation’ to start an encrypted call.
You can include up to 50 participants on a Skype video call.
Webex is a video conferencing app that’s also been around for awhile — since the 1990s, in fact. As the name suggests, it’s now owned by networking giant Cisco.
CiscoWebex Meetings is Cloud-based and lets you host online meetings with HD video, audio and screen sharing.
You can also access messaging, file sharing and white boarding features.
The number of people you can host on your video call depends on your Webex license, but no matter how many participants your license allows, only a maximum of 200 can join from a video device or the Webex Teams app.
For free accounts, usually 25 participants can participate in a video call for up to 50 minutes, but that has been temporarily increased to 100.
So there you have the major options when it comes to making video calls. A high-quality video call offers immediacy and the ability to make a visual and emotional connection, as well as share information and collaborate securely online.
Poor-quality video calling products can be cumbersome or restrictive to use, plagued with delays and video drop-outs, unsecured and simply annoying — so choose wisely and don’t forget to consider the impact on your business and your brand.