Daily chats with your team, client meetings, webinars for large audiences… video conferencing tools are more in demand than ever. Zoom’s daily user figures have shot from 10 to 300 million in the era of coronavirus – and that’s just one platform. Many companies are under pressure to choose a video provider as soon as possible to keep their businesses running. But how can they be certain they’re making the right choice?
Group conference calls with calendar functions, screen sharing and chat options come as standard. Our overview shows you what else the most significant business tools can do. And what language-related features they offer for an international audience.
Max. participants: 100 (free version), 300 (Business), 500 (Enterprise)
Operates: via a client on all standard platforms, via web app
The undisputed king of video conference tools offers HD quality and video transmission to up to 1,000 people. The host is the only person who needs a Zoom account; the other participants can access the meeting via a link. The paid versions of the software offer role-based administration and the ability to record and transcribe meetings. If you can do without these additional services, the free version may meet your needs, but watch out – it limits group video calls to 40 minutes. A whiteboard for collaboration is available across all versions.
The boom in Zoom usage during the COVID-19 pandemic was promptly followed by a backlash over the company’s data privacy and security failures. “Zoombombing” incidents, where intruders access calls via easy-to-guess meeting IDs and spread spam, became particularly common. Zoom has since updated its software with additional passwords for calls and waiting rooms where admins can see participants before letting them in to the call.
Language features: The Zoom client itself is available in seven languages. The host can permit a participant to create manual subtitles during the call, or integrate this function via a third-party provider.
Max. participants: 50
Operates: platform- and device-independent
The market leader and icon of Voice over IP telephony was originally intended for private use only. Since it was acquired by Microsoft in 2011, however, it has been increasingly used for corporate communications as well. Skype is free to use and requires a Skype or Microsoft account, though a little-known feature allows guests to access meetings via a link, without having to register or download the software. Conferences can be recorded, but Skype lacks other collaboration tools such as role assignment, whiteboards and the ability to dial in via phone. With Teams, Microsoft has also developed an extension that better protects the privacy of calls.
Language features: The software is available in 43 languages. Video conferences can be subtitled live by Skype in 11 languages.
Max. participants: 20 (audio only: 250)
Operates: via all standard platforms, online, via the public phone network
The chat program MS Teams is included as part of the fee-based Office 365 suite that also includes Microsoft Office and Skype. It bundles Office’s own services with those of third-party providers, and allows live video streaming to up to 10,000 people. No Microsoft account is needed to dial into a meeting either online or via a unique call number and conference ID. What’s more, a few days ago, the conference view received a long-awaited update that allows users to view up to nine active participants simultaneously.
Teams is a complete collaboration solution that includes whiteboards, the ability to record meetings, and an automatic transcription feature that means meeting minutes more or less write themselves (though proofreading is still necessary to iron out some of the weirder errors).
Language features: The application is available in 44 languages. It offers speech recognition and a live transcription feature in English for video conferences, with more languages to follow. The automatically generated subtitles can then be directly translated into six languages.
Microsoft has made Teams available for free for six months as a temporary measure during the coronavirus pandemic.
Max. participants: 100 (free version), 150 (Business), 250 (Enterprise)
Operates: via a client on all standard platforms and devices, online, via phone
Google Meet is specifically targeted at businesses (Hangouts and Duo were originally intended for private use) and is included in the fee-based G Suite. The free version limits conferences to 60 minutes. A livestreaming platform can broadcast to up to 100,000 people, making Google Meet a good choice for webinars and press conferences. A recent update lets you view video from up to 16 participants simultaneously, plus images from others. Calls can be recorded.
Language features: The interface is available in 28 languages. It also offers a live subtitling function for conferences in English.
G Suite Essentials, which includes Google Meet, is available for free until the end of September. The limit on the number of meeting participants when using the free version has also been temporarily suspended.
Max. participants: 50
Operates: device-independent and by phone, on all standard platforms, can be scaled for hardware such as Cisco, Polycom, Google
The cloud-based communication service, which was recently acquired by US conglomerate Verizon, offers users personal Dolby Voice conference rooms. These can be accessed via device-independent desktop and mobile apps, or directly via a browser without installing any software. Meetings can be recorded and content shared. BlueJeans is a cost-effective option for integration into all standard applications; its scalable architecture is a particular plus point.
Language features: BlueJeans supports four languages (five in the desktop version), but offers no other support for multilingual use.
Max. participants: 100 (free version), 200 (Business)
Operates: on standard operating systems, independent of Cisco
System provider Cisco has developed Webex Meetings, a video software that can be used independently of its own hardware. The host is the only person who requires an account, and participants can access meetings via any internet-enabled device or by phone. Features such as recordings, role assignment and digital transcription are restricted to the paid version.
Language features: Webex Meetings is available in 27 languages. A meeting participant can be assigned the role of subtitler and create subtitles in real time, or a third-party subtitle provider can be integrated into the meeting. Subtitles can also be saved as a transcript.
Max. participants: 10
Operates: as an independent client
Open-source alternative Jitsi is currently gaining popularity in tech circles. The free software is aimed at users who place a high value on privacy and data protection: it doesn’t require an account to use, and all calls are encrypted as standard. Calls can also be recorded if the file is saved on Dropbox. The only downside is the number of participants: while there’s no official limit, in practice, the servers are only capable of hosting small meetings with between five and 10 users. If you want to go big, you’ll have to support the servers yourself.
Language features: The client is available in 20 languages, but does not offer any other language features.
Max. participants: 16 (Plus), 250 (Pro)
Operates: on Windows, Mac, iOS, Android
The online titan’s video conference tool was developed in 2017 and is aimed at professional users. The fee-based Plus version of Amazon Chime can accommodate up to 16 users via desktop and eight on mobile. The organizer requires an Amazon Web Services account; everyone else can access the meeting via a meeting ID, even without the app. However, besides the ability to record meetings in the Pro version, this spartan application offers few features.
Language features: None (the tool is only available in English).
On the way out: Skype for Business
Skype’s business solution offers what the free version lacks: conferences with up to 250 participants and a wide range of collaboration features. However, Microsoft’s new kid on the block, Teams, has made the application obsolete, and it will be retired in July 2021. By 2025, the on-premises solution should also be completely replaced by Teams.
Coming soon: Messenger Rooms
Facebook has another video solution in the pipeline to complement its popular private service WhatsApp: in future, Messenger Rooms should provide up to 50 people – with or without Facebook accounts – with free video chat functions with no time limit. Access control by the room creator will help to protect participants’ privacy, and end-to-end encryption is planned to follow. The application was made available in the US, Mexico and Canada in April, and was then rolled out worldwide at the end of May. Messenger Rooms is integrated into all Facebook products, meaning that it can be used in all 115 of Facebook’s system languages. Will the free solution also be suitable for business use, for example by SMEs? Stay tuned to find out.
Conclusion: Multilingual teams and companies with international clients can play it safe with Google Meet or Skype successor MS Teams. They’re not only integrated into standard office applications, but also offer the most features for video conferences, such as a range of system languages and live subtitling functions that should be expanded further in future. Those with less money to burn – and who are happy to make do without additional features – can take advantage of comprehensive free Zoom and Webex Meeting services during the coronavirus pandemic. Meanwhile, small companies, tech nerds and data privacy crusaders should check out Jitsi Meet.
Cover image via Twenty20