As we prepare to add more content to this website, we're turning off the ability to sign in on ncvo.org.uk and knowhow.ncvo.org.uk. To ensure members can access what they need, member content is available to all users until the end of July. Visit our temporarily free-to-all tools and resources
Use this page to help you work out if you need to change video calling software. You might decide to use different software and tools for different things.
The most important part of choosing any software is knowing what you are going to use it for. And what all the people who are using it need.
Here are some of the top things to consider when choosing your video calling software.
It isn’t as simple as 'one type of these is easier to use than the other'. To decide whether something will be easy to use for the people you want to use it with, think about the following.
Which of those considerations matter the most to you and your users?
What matters when assessing calling platforms for security is the level of risk, and what is at risk.
There are three main things that matter.
1.Sharing personal details - such as email and phone numbers.
2.Controlling who gets into the call, and their behaviour.
3.Privacy of call content.
For most groups and organisations risks one and two are more likely to occur and have more serious consequences than risk three.
For more on how to deal with the safeguarding risks of running digital services, you can work through the DigiSafe toolkit.
For many people free solutions will be enough. But they do have limits that you should check. Then you will need to consider buying a licence. License costs are usually for one person to use the software to set up and run calls, for one month or year.
As you choose what you need, look out for the following.
Main uses: one-to-one or small group conversations. Particularly being used to provide support to people in need.
Advantages: working with what people know. WhatsApp is commonly used by many people as part of their day-to-day lives. Does have end-to-end encryption of conversations and calls. Call quality is good. Works very well on phones
Limitations and risks: uses phone numbers and shares them with everyone involved in a call. Shares data about what calls have been made with WhatsApp owners (Facebook). In early 2020 it made this sharing compulsory. Uses a lot of battery and data for the calls.
Main uses: one-to-one or small group conversations. Popular with counselling services and for some internal organisation conversations. Group activities for older people.
Advantages: working with what people know. Skype is one of the oldest video calling platforms. Free account to account calling. Can call phones (additional costs).
Limitations and risks: this is the person to person system - although many groups use it for organisation purposes. All participants need an account to access free calls. Skype for Business also exists but is not as widespread or useful as some other platforms.
Main uses: in-organisation calls. Small to medium-sized group voice or video calls. Organisations that also use Gmail and other Google products.
Advantages: simple to use if using other Google systems. Anyone can join via link or phone dial in. Has free and paid versions and available within Google Workspace (formerly known as G-suite). Closed captions in English available live as a standard, free service.
Limitations and risk: free version doesn’t allow recordings. Free version has time limit (suspended during coronavirus). Some users report that it doesn’t handle large numbers of participants well. Breakout rooms were added at the end of 2020.
Main uses: in-organisation calls, training provision. Small to medium group calls. Inbuilt collaboration via whiteboards and other tools.
Advantages: Teams is an organisation and project management system with calling as part of it. Can be bought as part of Office 365 licences. Deals exist for 10 free licenses for registered charities. Also comes with a chat system for your organisation (comparable to tools like Slack and Yammer).
Limitations and risk: limited choice of how to view call participants. Recording can be complicated (depends on your licence). Some users report screen sharing and integrated tools can be slow to use. Splitting callers into smaller groups (breakout rooms) can be done on some licences.
Main uses: group sessions or group calls. All types of open-access session (including lots of arts activities) moved onto Zoom during the Coronavirus crisis. So it's possible to run training activities and small conferences using a standard Zoom account. Zoom also offers extra webinar and conferencing focused-products that are for larger events.
Advantages: lots of tools to control who gets into calls and what they can do once they are there. Lots of different screen views and screen sharing options. Breakout rooms to run smaller groups. Recording available as standard.
Limitations and risk: if you need more than the 45 minute call length on a free account costs can mount up. Only licence holders can schedule calls and have access to some of the hosting features. After some early security worries, Zoom gave users lots of controls - there is a learning curve to using it well. Some government providers don’t use Zoom because of the early risks. Closed captions need an additional piece of software.
If these are working fine for you now, then carry on. But don’t start using either for the first time now. Microsoft are focusing more effort onto Teams. Google are focusing on Meet.
Popular with protest groups, because they offer more anonymity than WhatsApp. They both started as messaging systems and their calling technology is not as good as some others. They offer lots of complex privacy options. Some people find these confusing, others find them useful.
Popular with younger people. Combines chat channels, voice channels and discussion boards. Was first used alongside online gaming.
New tools designed to make online events more fun and more like real events. These are platforms which allow people to move between conversations more easily. You can move on the screen and speak to people near you (proximity based calls). Still experimental.
Less well-known platforms that do similar things to Zoom, Meets or Teams. They may suit particular needs such as a simpler interface for people with learning disabilities (Wherby) or an organisation committed to using open-source products (Jitsi).
Pricing and features change very rapidly in the video conferencing marketplace. So we haven’t provided a detailed comparison. Instead we’ve provided a blank table to help you make your own comparison. It focuses on some of the things to look out for.
Download it using the 'get the data' button above and adapt it to suit your needs.
To get more advice on how to work out exactly what you need from your video conferencing software use our guide to choosing new software and tools.
Last reviewed: 02 March 2021Help us improve this content
Get regular updates on NCVO's help, support and services