I’ve been fascinated to see the huge growth that certain industries have experienced this year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s fair to say that video conferencing software companies have had something of a bumper year. With the impact of a vaccine unlikely to be felt in any major way for at least several months, it looks like those who provide the ability to video conference will also have a strong start to 2021.
As such, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the best video conferencing software for 2021. From the best free video conferencing software to the best business services, read on to discover the right option to meet your needs.
Best Free Video Conferencing Software: Overall Picks
Whether you’re a business user or just someone trying to connect with family and friends during lockdown, ‘free’ is always an attractive price tag. That’s why I’ve started with a run-down of the ten best free video conference software options. From web conferencing with colleagues or clients to a simple online meeting, these video conference picks have something for everyone.
In order to home in on the ten best free video conferencing picks, I looked at a range of criteria, including:
• Number of call participants
• Call duration limitations
• Ease of use (from both meeting organiser’s perspective and participants’)
• Call quality
• Customer support quality
Bearing all of this in mind, my top ten options for free video conferencing software for 2021 are as follows.
A year ago, Zoom’s income stood at $5.5 million. One global pandemic later and that figure now stands at $186 million, making Zoom one of 2020’s most meteoric success stories.
Zoom provides everything you could hope for from video conferencing software in terms of call quality and usability, with an intuitive user interface whether you’re using it in on PC or mobile. The free version allows up to 100 participants to video conference for up to 40 minutes. If you’re looking to interpret participants’ speech in real time through Zoom interpretation services, then the software delivers on that front too.
I’ve used Zoom regularly throughout the pandemic and can attest to both its reliability and its usability. It’s my top pick for free video conferencing software for 2021.
One of the original breed of video conferencing software providers, Skype has stood the test of time, with users around the world relying on it for personal and business purposes. Using Skype for free allows you to video conference with up to 50 participants for an unlimited duration, making this a solid choice for businesses and personal users alike.
Cisco Webex Meetings
Another major player in the video conferencing industry is Cisco. The company’s web conferencing services, Webex, provides a free and reliable online meeting option, with up to 100 participants and unlimited call duration, along with HD video and screen sharing.
A stalwart of the video conferencing industry is Microsoft Teams. Again, users can enjoy an intuitive interface with reliable call quality. The free version allows an online meeting of up to 45 minutes at a time, with a maximum of 300 participants. Plenty big enough for most business users, as well as family catchups.
Google’s free video teleconference option allows you to host up to 100 participants for an hour’s duration. You’ll need a Google account in order to access Google Meet, so if you don’t already have one and want to save time, there are faster options in terms of getting started. But for virtual meeting quality that shines, this is a reliable option. The free version also includes live closed captions (in English), which is a nice touch.
You don’t need to download anything to get started with GoToMeeting, making this an easy option for those looking for free video conferencing software that’s quick to get started with. The free plan allows you to host meetings of up to 40 minutes, though with a maximum of just three participants this may feel limiting to some users. Still, a robust product with helpful customer service.
Another software-free video calling option is FreeConference. The free version allows up to five video participants. However, you can also include 1,000 audio participants in your virtual meeting, which makes this an excellent choice for large companies. The unlimited call duration is also a nice touch.
This completely free option is the result of an open source project that allows you to video conference without an account. With HD audio and encryption by default, it delivers both quality and security. For developers, there’s also scope to bend Jitsi’s features to their will, given its open source nature.
Another reliable option, RingCentral Meetings’ free plan provides you with unlimited one-to-one video calls and group calls of up to 40 minutes for as many as 100 participants. Participants can join from computers, mobiles, telephones and conference room systems, making this a versatile choice.
8x8 Meet is a reliable choice of video conferencing software, with all the features you could hope for from a free service (including the ability to record and live stream meetings). Call quality is decent, but I couldn’t find much detail about encryption, so if you’re hosting top secret virtual meetings then another of our top ten video conference options might be a better choice.
Best Video Conferencing Software for Businesses
Many of the video conference options we looked at above would suffice for certain business needs. However, the various participant and call duration limits can be a pain at times. As such, I thought it worth including another top ten here, to showcase the ten best video conferencing software packages for businesses.
In some instances, I’ve included the same companies, but focusing on their paid service offerings rather than the free version. This ‘freemium’ model is highly effective in terms of drawing users in with a free service offering and then tempting them with additional features in order to convert them to paying customers.
As with the free video conference services, I’ve ranked the top ten business video conferencing options based on set criteria. However, I’ve weighted these differently in order to focus on business use. Call quality, for example, is arguably more important in a business setting than for family catchups.
The list of ranking criteria for the business video teleconference picks includes:
• Call quality
• Customer service
• Joining methods (accounts, apps, browsers, etc.)
• Number of call participants
• Call duration limitations
• Ease of use
• Additional features (such as recording meetings, cloud storage space, screen sharing, text chat, etc.)
With these in mind, my best video conferencing software for business choices are as follows.
Cisco Webex Meetings
Webex holds the crown for being the world’s most popular enterprise-level video conference option. It’s fully featured, secure and reliable, with artificial intelligence delivering a range of pro-functions. There’s a digital in-meeting assistant to deliver real-time transcripts, closed captioning, notes and highlights, which can be incredibly useful. With a 1,000-participant limit, this video teleconference software is ideal for businesses big and small.
My other top pick is RingCentral Office, due to its value for money, fully featured offering (which ranges from voicemail transcription to personalized onboarding training) and 24/7 customer support. This is slick, reliable web conferencing that will suit businesses of all shapes and sizes. Video meetings can include up to 200 participants, with unlimited meeting durations. There’s also a handy feature that allows you to hop between devices mid-meeting.
Zoom doesn’t quite take the top spot when it comes to the best video conferencing software for businesses, but it’s pretty close. Paid plan options deliver plenty of flexibility, with a choice between 100, 300 and 500 maximum participants and unlimited call durations. For call quality, Zoom is a solid choice. It doesn’t provide quite as many additional features as some of our other video conference options, but transcription is available with the highest priced plan.
Microsoft Teams is a great option for big businesses, with the most expensive of the three paid plans allowing hosting of online events for up to 10,000 people. All packages permit video conferencing for up to 300 participants and this secure, reliable services is packed with useful features.
Skype excels at delivering high quality video conferencing across the globe. The software is intuitive and easy to use and you can choose between browser and app versions for added convenience. A solid choice for business video conferencing with up to 50 participants.
If you want a virtual meeting service that’s reliable, secure and user-friendly, Google Meet is ideal. It comes with unlimited Google Drive, which is a nice touch for business users. It’s worth bearing in mind that a fully featured experience – if you want to record meetings, for example – will push you into the costliest pricing plan.
Zoho Meeting is an excellent choice if you want to host a virtual meeting with no messing around setting it up. There’s an app available if you want it, but the browser version allows you to host and join meetings without missing out on any of the software’s most important features. Integration with Zoho’s other products can make this a handy tool for businesses that are also in need of CRM, accounting or customer service software.
GoToMeeting is another video conferencing option that you can trust. You can host meetings with up to 26 participants or up to 1,000 if you opt for GoToWebinar instead. Easy to use and with great call quality, GoToMeeting is the service of choice for business video conferencing around the world.
BlueJeans Meetings’ cloud service is ultra-fast and easy to use. Up to 100 interactive participants can join a virtual meeting, while universal interoperability means that callers shouldn’t face any issues when joining meetings. Secure, enterprise-ready and with features such as meeting recording built in, this is a reliable service that’s backed by 24/7 customer support.
A serviceable video conferencing option, UberConference allows you to host a virtual meeting with up to 100 participants, with a five-hour duration limit. The software’s social media integration is excellent, making it easy to invite business contacts through LinkedIn. However, there are some question marks around stability, with many users reporting dropped calls and finding it tough to get through to customer support.
Free Video Conferencing Platforms for People on a Budget
For my final round-up of the best video conferencing software for 2021, I wanted to focus on those who prioritise price above all else. Whether you’re looking for family video conferences on a budget or your business is facing economic hardship and needs to cut costs, the services below should serve you well when it comes to saving money.
For these picks, I’ve made the ranking criteria really, really simple:
I toyed with the idea of using price as the single criterion, but a free video conference service that’s unreliable will likely only lead to frustration, so I’ve put an emphasis on reliability too.
If you want a reliable video conference service that’s stood the test of time, it has to be Skype. The free service is used by individuals and businesses to connect with up to 50 people at a time. The ideal budget option for those looking for a dependable, decent quality service.
If you don’t tend to natter for more than 40 minutes at a time, then Zoom is the perfect choice of free virtual meeting software. The free service also provides unlimited duration video calls for two participants, which can come in handy. High quality and easy to use – an excellent all-round service.
If you’ve already got a Google account, then using Google Meet for your web conferencing needs makes a lot of sense. The video calling functionality is easy to understand and delivers a solid, stable online meeting experience. A superb choice if budget is your main driver.
Cisco Webex Meetings
If you’re looking for a taste of enterprise-level professionalism on a budget, then Cisco Webex Meetings will do the trick. You can invite up to 100 participants to join an online meeting of unlimited duration; perfect for small and medium businesses looking for a high-quality service while also keeping a close eye on the purse strings.
Another service with a time limit (45 minutes per meeting), Microsoft Teams has an easy-to-use interface that you can use to connect with up to 300 participants. If large but not overly long meetings are your priority, then this is a great way to host them without needing to spend any money.
Are you after free video conferencing software to use as a sales tool? If so, Join.me is well worth a look. Decent call quality and one-click screen sharing make this a solid choice for product demos to up to ten participants.
If you’re after a fully featured video conferencing service for just a handful of meetings, then ClickMeeting’s free 30-day trial could be just what you’re looking for. You can host webinars or conferences yourself and also invite other presenters to join you, meaning this free service is well suited to a range of business use cases. On the subject of webinars, if you plan to deliver them in multiple languages, it’s worth checking out the link below, before you get started.
Read more: How to Deliver a Webinar for a Multilingual Audience
Is it a contact centre-style video conferencing software that you’re seeking? Then CXEngage could be the tool you need. A popular choice with customer service agents in the healthcare, finance and retail sectors, this software doesn’t require any downloads, supports HD-quality video and is quick and easy to use.
Easy to use and offering the option to join from both desktop and mobile, Lifesize is a hand option that’s ultra-budget friendly. You do have to set up an account before you can start video conferencing, but the process is quick and easy, so you can be up and running fairly quickly.
I wanted to include Twitch as a final option for those who are more interested in video game sharing, rather than online meeting software per se. If you want to live stream your video games (another sector that’s done very well out of the pandemic, by the way), along with your own audio commentary, then Twitch is the ideal free way to do so.
I hope that, whatever your motivation for looking into video conferencing software, you’ve found the service you need listed above. My top three overall recommendations are Zoom, Skype and Cisco Webex Meetings. Each offers a slightly different feature set, but all three video conferencing solutions deliver service stability, top notch call quality and a range of pricing options to suit all budgets.
Even with healthcare and pharmaceutical teams around the world racing to produce and administer COVID-19 vaccines, we’re still months away from any kind of normality returning to work and travel arrangements. As such, it’s time to embrace everything that video conferencing has to offer.