By: Andy Abramson
For years WebEx has been the modern standard which businesses called upon for conference calls and collaboration. WebEx replaced the former generation’s old style conference calling services which were mostly dial in, reservation-based, and often expensive. WebEx, which became a Cisco product following its acquisition, in 2007, changed the dynamic and, over time, made it possible to use the Web browser to share documents and take part in conference calls, both with and without a traditional phone call.
Since Cisco bought the company, WebEx has added video, expanded its collaboration suite, and proliferated with deployments of apps on smartphones, tablets, and even added deeper desktop conferencing and collaboration integration. In doing so, WebEx has become more tightly woven into the various Internet browsers and, in turn, became woven into the fabric of everyday business. That, in turn, opened the door to a series of new service offerings some of which are surpassing WebEx in features and functionality, while also beating it on price.
With conference and collaboration services proliferating at such a rapid rate, much of this has to do with WebRTC, an emerging new standard that makes collaboration and conferencing only a browser or app away. Between those using apps and services WebRTC, or other VoIP technologies, it’s never been easier to work collaboratively.
The big benefits from these new services relates to monthly billing and the ability to add and drop users. This flexibility to scale up and down has turned conference calling into an operating expense model vs. a capital expenditure outlay, thereby mitigating the risk that the solution may become outdated before fully depreciated.
Now, with the advent of web and cloud based services, let’s take a look at Four options available to businesses of all sizes providing features and pricing offering freedom of choice and lots of flexibility.
UberConference--Is the conference service offered by Dialpad. They offer a voice only conference calling service that has screen sharing and call recording. There’s a mobile app allowing a quick dial into the call. The service is tightly integrated with Google Apps and uses Google’s authentication. Best of all, it’s usable from inside the Chrome and Firefox browser, eliminating any downloads or apps on the desktop. Both free and paid options exist, as does dedicated local numbers and toll-free numbers for dial in from mobile phones and landlines. Recently Uberconference added integration into Slack, making it easy to start a conference call with members of a team.
Cauliflower - An early pioneer in delivering web services-based conference calling, Cauliflower was one of the first full-featured collaboration-based conference calling services to deploy appointment based connectivity. All participants are called on a phone number of their designation, and asked to enter their own personal pin for identification. The service was also one of the first to make full use of the capabilities of the web browser, including the deployment of WebRTC. Cauliflower offers a significant number of web conferencing features, without a hefty price tag.
Zoom - Started by many of the core team behind WebEx, Zoom is changing the way business users communicate. It’s full-featured, offering both video and audio conferencing, has fully functioning apps for mobile devices and offers downloaded desktop/laptop applets which, like WebEx, work within and around the browser environment. Zoom has just about every feature one needs for modern day collaboration to include Cloud and desktop recording, international dial-ins, plus the ability to integrate via an open API with services like Zapier, making this a workflow artists’ essential service.
GoToMeeting by Citrix - like Zoom and WebEx, GoToMeeting is a feature-rich conferencing and collaboration service and is available for free for up to three users, with various service packages available beyond that on a monthly basis. GoToMeeting was the first major conferencing service to use the Temasys WebRTC plug-in for Safari and Internet Explorer, making it possible for users of those two web browsers to take part in calls without any additional software, however that support has been discontinued..
Three that Are Enterprise Ready
Skype For Business Meetings - After acquiring Skype, Microsoft worked to integrate Skype into their Lync platform, a largely consumer-facing service being used by business people all over the world. An originator with their legacy “NetMeeting” product, with the advent of Office 365, Microsoft has incorporated a revamped Skype, bringing a large multi-party conferencing and collaboration solution. Various prices and plans exist, and if your business is already using Office 365, the Skype for Business may be already there for you to deploy. Most recently, Microsoft launched Skype Meetings. The service, which offers one month free, allows up to ten people on a conference call. After the month, the service then only works for up to three people for free or ten with a month to month agreement.
Blue Jeans - Blue Jeans was one of the first video conferencing calling platforms to virtualize their services, along with Vidtel, which has since been acquired. Blue Jeans is one of the most interoperable services in use today, working with Microsoft Lync, Cisco Jabber, deploying apps for iOS and Android, and being fully browser compatible with Avaya Scopia and Lifesize’s softphone. It also works with legacy H.323 and SIP-based room systems. Blue Jeans provides full HD video conferencing right to your web browser, offering browser plugins and apps for Windows, Mac, and Linux systems, while native support for Chrome and Chromebooks welcomes guests with no download required.
Vidyo - A really strong player in the financial, healthcare and Pharma sectors, Vidyo’s cloud-based infrastructure makes them a worthy contender in the world of video conferencing and collaboration. Much like Blue Jeans, Vidyo has all the pieces and parts to connect room based systems, desktops, laptops and mobile devices easily and effortlessly. Their VidyoCloud solution is an IT light solution that is easily deployed across the enterprise, affording managers the ability to quickly add users and participants for one-off or regularly scheduled meetings with anyone who is connected to the Internet. Vidyo’s biggest strength also rivals Blue Jeans in ubiquity as the service works with WebRTC, Linux, Google Chrome, iOS, Microsoft Windows, Firefox, OSX, SIP, H.323, Android, Safari and Internet Explorer.
Three That Are Free (for now)
Drum - currently a completely free offering, Drum leverages HTML5 and WebRTC to make online meetings happen fast, easily and is entirely an in-browser experience. Part of the instant meeting world, Drum seamlessly integrates into Slack with a one time touch of a few mouse-clicks, and then is easily called from within any Slack chat, much like what GoToMeeting and UberConference are also offering. Drum also offers screen sharing and dial-in capabilities.
Appear.In - Another of the free, fast and easy solutions available . One of their initial claims to fame was how they embraced Slack, making it easy to quickly invoke a video conference for up to eight people. The approach from Appear.in is rather easy. By using a WebRTC solution set, you just create a room, copy and share the room’s link (URL) and all end up together. It’s a very straightforward and useful solution.
GetARoom.io-WebRTC leader Temasys created GetARoom initially as a proof of concept and to demonstrate their Skylink platforms capabilities. Like Drum and Appear.In it’s a free option, and because they offer access to the Skylink Media Relay, they can often work around firewalls and proxy issues that sometimes plague WebRTC deployments.
The Rise of the New Room Systems
HighFive - A relative newcomer to the room system scene, High Five has brought a high quality, low priced room system, with a range of camera options that extends out to desktops (Macs and Windows), mobile devices, iOS, and Android at a fraction of what Polycom or Cisco room systems cost.
Lifesize - Initially a rival to far more expensive hardware and room-based solutions, Lifesize has been creating amazing room, and now on the go experiences, for SMB's and Enterprise companies. Now independent again after a spin out from Logitech, Lifesize, like HighFive, offers a hybrid cloud and room-based solution set for super high-quality video conferencing. Their recent Lifesize Amplify offering makes recording and sharing the video call or conference super easy, providing a nice differentiator from other room and cloud solutions.
If you’re looking beyond WebEx, these twelve alternatives provide you a plethora of choices at all prices ranges. There’s a solution for every business and business for every solution that’s out there.
Xceptional is ideally suited to help you navigate through the various options, so drop them a line, tell them what you’re looking for, and let their team of experts craft the right solution for your business.