For millions of people around the world, video chats and conferences are an essential part of daily life – for both work and leisure. When it comes to video telephony software and applications, Skype is by far the leader of the pack. In fact, many people are unaware that there’s a considerable number of good alternatives to Skype on the market, which are also available free of charge. Some of...
Sometimes it’s just not possible to get together in the same place for successful meetings to take place. Instead of traveling around the world, much can be accomplished online nowadays. Theoretically, you could just reach for the phone, but to see the person you’re speaking to has some significant advantages: for example, seeing the facial expressions of others is particularly useful when negotiating or discussing feedback and performance.
Countless solutions for video conferencing are now available. Besides pricing (many solutions are available for free), services usually distinguish themselves in terms of data security, additional features, and the maximum number of participants allowed.
An overview of video conferencing software
There are no clear winners on the market when it comes to video conferencing software. The individual providers are geared towards different user groups and offer various features. The choice predominantly depends on your needs and business demands. The following overview can help when making a decision:
Maximum number of participants
256 bit TLS
Private people and SMBs
256 bit AES
Suitable for traditional phone calls
Included with Microsoft 365
Private people and SMBs
Included with G Suite
256 bit AES
Server location of your choice
KMU & Large enterprises
How to hold a video conference: the tools in detail
Every software has its advantages and disadvantages. Some are perfect for smaller teams and others are useful for large enterprises.
Zoom enables up to 1,000 participants to join a conference with up to 49 participants being shown on screen at the same time. During webinars, where most users listen and watch rather than actively talk during a call, even more participants can be added.
However, adding large numbers of callers is not available with the free version of the software. When using Zoom free of charge, you can add up to 100 participants. One of the advantages of Zoom is that invitees are not required to sign up for an account, but can join a call using a web link.
The software has become popular because of its plethora of added functions:
- Text chat: Participants in meetings and conferences can communicate via chat
- Data transmission: Data can be easily shared via Zoom
- Screen sharing: The screen can be shared for multiple users to view
- Whiteboard: Participants can share ideas on a digital whiteboard during a meeting
- Flexible background: Participants can choose special backgrounds to hide their office or home office backgrounds
The software is available as a desktop version for Windows and macOS and can be installed on iOS and Android devices or accessed via a mobile browser. Various plug-ins for third-party software like Microsoft Outlook are available, making operations even easier.
However, Zoom has attracted some criticism because of its lack of data protection. For starters, administrators of Zoom conferences can view more details than participants may be aware of. For example, they can see which users are swapping to a different window. On the other hand, third-parties could gain access to sensitive user data because virtual meeting rooms aren’t very secure and can be easily hacked by cyber criminals. Following significant media pressure, the US company finally prohibited sharing of data with Facebook.
|Very large meetings, conferences, and webinars are possible||Complete range of functions only possible with fee-based version|
|Additional functions such as screen-sharing and changing of backgrounds||Data security concerns|
|Interfaces to other programs are available|
Skype is one of the best-known video conferencing software tools. The popular program has been around since 2003 and started out as an instant messaging service. Its features have been progressively expanded with the addition of voice over IP and later video conferencing. Since Microsoft acquired Skype, the stability of calls has been much improved and its functionalities have been expanded.
The program is available for free, but costs can accrue which is also one of Skype’s advantages. The “SkypeOut” feature allows people to call standard phone numbers. This can be great for international calls which may otherwise become very expensive. Similarly, users can request a Skype telephone number which lets people dial-in using a normal telephone.
Skype has some strong advantages when it comes to IP telephony, but it’s also a good tool for video conferencing. Up to 50 people can group-chat together and the software provides a few extra features:
- Instant messaging: Naturally, you can use Skype’s chat functions during a video call
- Background blur: Skype recognizes a background and can deliberately blur it and pull the main speaker into focus
- Live subtitles: During a conversation, participants can use speech recognition to view subtitles in real-time
- Screen sharing: Users can share their entire screens with call participants, even on mobile devices
One of the main advantages of the software is its wide distribution and numerous interfaces. Desktop versions are available for Windows, macOS, and Linux. The mobile app can be installed on Android as well as iOS devices. Skype even works with voice assistant Alexa and gaming console Xbox. And because it’s a Microsoft product, it can be easily combined with other programs – especially Outlook.
|Widely disseminated||Specialized for IP telephony|
|Additional features such as blurred background and live subtitles||Only up to 50 people in group calls|
|Available for IoT devices|
While Skype is predominantly directed at private customers and smaller working groups, Microsoft’s Teams is a collaboration solutions that provides video conferencing for large enterprises. Teams can be seen as a successor to Skype4Business. The purpose of the program is to simplify internal communication.
As part of the Microsoft 365 product suite, Teams can be connected with many other Microsoft services. For example, Teams is easily integrated with Outlook or the Office Suite. Documents and spreadsheets can be directly embedded in Teams and modified using the software.
Teams provides various ways in which users can communicate. It includes a chat feature, IP telephony, and enables video conferencing for meetings. According to Microsoft, up to 10,000 participants can join online meetings. In addition, video calls can be scheduled in Outlook and executed in Teams.
The software is available for Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS. A preliminary version already exists for Linux. Like all Microsoft 365 products, Teams can be operated entirely from a browser. The software can also be connected to other video telephony devices.
|Up to 10,000 participants||No extra features|
|Part of Microsoft 365 and easy to integrate with suitable programs|
|Sophisticated collaboration software|
|Works with IoT devices|
Online giant Google provides its very own video conferencing solution. As part of the G Suite, Hangouts is optimized for use via the browser. The tool is strongly embedded in the Google product family and can be accessed directly via your Gmail account. The free version of Hangouts allows for group calls of up to 10 people. When you upgrade, up to 250 users can join a meeting.
When it comes to video conferencing, Google’s product portfolio is a little chaotic. While Hangouts is free for non-business users, the company offers two products for professional clients within its G Suite: Hangout Chats for instant messaging and Hangout Meet for video conferencing.
Much like other video conferencing software, users can share their screen and chat at the same time using Hangouts. One of the advantages of the service is that people who don’t have a Google account can be invited to join a meeting. Hangout Meet even enables users to join calls using traditional dial-in via a telephone. Besides its web application, the mobile app can also be used for conferences.
|Part of G Suite||Free version is envisaged for smaller meetings|
|Can be used via browser||Data is shared with Google|
|People without a Google account can join online meeting||No extra features|
Cisco has developed its own video conferencing software called WebEx, which is intended for larger companies and enterprises and much like Microsoft Teams manages internal communication. Using WebEx, chats and calls as well as video conferences are possible. Meetings can involve up to 40,000 participants. Extra security is provided thanks to end-to-end encryption. There are plenty of extra features that make WebEx a good solution for business use:
- Screen-sharing: Users can share their entire screens during video calls
- Whiteboard: Meetings and presentation can make use of the integrated whiteboard
- Document processing: Multiple people can collaborate on documents during a call
WebEx also has several advantages because of its versatile integration possibilities which expand the software’s scope of operation. Beside other collaboration tools like Teams or Slack, users can integrate WebEx with various cloud storage services or combine the tool with Salesforce. Interestingly, the software can be connected to Facebook which reverts conferences and webinars to the social media network where they can be viewed as live video streams. Additionally, Cisco provides its own suite of IoT devices which make video conferencing even easier.
|Video conferences with up to 40,000 participants||Only suitable for large companies|
|Helpful additional features|
|Special hardware available|
Amazon has created a large server network with AWS which includes its own video conferencing software for sellers and companies. The communication solution provides a chat function and IP telephony. Conferences on a desktop version can include up to 16 people; using the mobile version eight participants can join a video call. Much like other video conferencing solutions, users can share their screen with colleagues to exchange information effortlessly.
Amazon Chime can be used via the web version in a browser or can be installed on Windows, macOS, iOS, and Android systems. The Amazon cloud service continues to attract criticism over data security concerns because its servers are based in the USA. However, users can select European servers. Additionally, Amazon provides complete encryption.
|Directly accessible via browser||Data security issues|
|Can be used for IP telephony||Allows for fewer participants on a group call than its competitors|
If you want to be certain that no sensitive data is shared, you should consider a conferencing solution that is embedded on a company’s servers. Nextcloud Talk is an open-source solution that can be configured to meet individual company demands. To ensure that no information gets into the wrong hands, all calls are end-to-end encrypted. One of the main advantages of Nextcloud are its various security features:
- Open source: Open-source software can be more secure because multiple people usually verify its source code
- Self-hosting: The company stores all data on its own servers and provides its own security features
- End-to-end encryption: All calls are encrypted and cannot be monitored
- Video verification: Before external callers are invited to join a digital meeting room, they can be checked via video call in advance
Besides its broad security features, Nextcloud Talk offers a series of handy tools for video conferences. Not only is a chat function included, but users can also activate screen-sharing and hold presentations online. Inviting external users to join a session is simple: just send them the link. How many users can take part in video conferences simultaneously depends on the infrastructure and is scalable.
Talk is part of the comprehensive groupware solution Nextcloud Hub which also provides multiple applications for co-working and a complete Office environment. Nextcloud Talk can be used directly from a browser or after downloading the iOS or Android app.
Nextcloud Hub, including video conferencing software Talk, is available from IONOS. Find all your favorite tools pre-configured in the cloud to connect your entire business.
|High data security||Requires self-hosting|
|Number of participants can be scaled|
|Part of a groupware solution|