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Comparing video conferencing software

This page is free to all

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.

Working out what type of video calling software you need

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.

Ease of use

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.

  • Are people already using it for other things?
  • Do you find the software provider’s help pages or instruction videos clear?
  • Does it work across different devices - computers, phones, tablets?
  • Do people have to download an app or can they use it in a browser window?
  • Do people have to have an account? Or can you send invitations to join to anyone?
  • Do you need or want your video calling software closely linked with document storage and other types of collaboration?
  • Does it have accessibility features such as closed captions (closed captions are a text version of the spoken part of a television, movie, or computer presentation)?

Which of those considerations matter the most to you and your users?

Security, privacy and safeguarding

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.

  • Does the platform need you to know these? If the answer is yes, did you already have these details? Have you got the right data protection policies in place for looking after them?
  • How about the other participants? Do they see each other’s details?
  • How about the software provider? Do they get access to this information? Do you trust them with it?

2.Controlling who gets into the call, and their behaviour.

  • Can you control who gets into the call, after sharing a link to it? If you kick someone out, can you keep them out? Can you reduce risk by limiting who can share screens?

3.Privacy of call content.

  • End to end encryption is a technical process that means no one can look at the content of conversations. This is a gold standard for privacy and uses quite a lot of processing power. It's very difficult for software companies to provide if you want to record your calls. This will matter if you are concerned that your activities might come under surveillance from authorities. Governments could pressure software providers to turn over call logs.

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.

Costs and what you get for the cost

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.

  • Limits on call length (some companies have taken limits off during coronavirus, watch out for that changing).
  • Who can schedule and create calls? Does this mean you need extra licences?
  • Who can you give powers to control meetings to? Is it only people with licences or can you give those powers to other people?
  • Does individual licence price decrease if you buy more?
  • Can you pay monthly or are you tied in to a longer contract?
  • Any discounts available for charities, education or community groups?

WhatsApp

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.

Skype (personal)

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.

Google Meet

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.

Teams

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.

Zoom

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.

On the way out in 2021

Skype for Business, Google Hangouts

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.

Up and coming in 2021

Signal, Telegram

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.

Discord

Popular with younger people. Combines chat channels, voice channels and discussion boards. Was first used alongside online gaming.

Gather town, Wonder.me

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.

Jitsi, Whereby

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).

Making a decision

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 2021

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This page was last reviewed for accuracy on 02 March 2021

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