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Choosing a Video Conferencing Service
A Buyer's Guide

A Business News Daily Buyer's Guide

Product and service reviews are conducted independently by our editorial team, but we sometimes make money when you click on links. Learn more.

There was a time when being able to hold video conferences was a luxury most businesses couldn't afford. However, today businesses of all sizes are looking for solutions to help them meet with colleagues and customers via video meetings.

Recent research shows that more than 98 percent of medium and large-size organizations are likely to purchase video conferencing solutions, with two-thirds of small businesses planning to do the same. 

Video conferencing helps teams collaborate, especially as it becomes more common for people to work remotely. Video conferences bring more to the table than regular conference calls, including physical gestures, facial expressions and the ability to share screens.

An increase in remote work is driving the need for video conferencing solutions. The study shows that more than 75 percent of employers want video conferencing software as a way to support meetings with remote employees, with another three-quarters saying they need this type of service because they have multiple offices.

Choosing the right video conferencing service for your business is important. How many participants will regularly sit in on your calls? Do you need to integrate other applications, such as Google Docs, to share with other users? How often do you intend to utilize video conferences? You need to consider all of these factors before you decide. A platform with dozens of features could turn out to be a waste of money, but a free service might not provide the features you require.

If you're looking for video conferencing services in 2019, here's everything you need to know about what these solutions offer and how to choose one. Already know what you're looking for? Visit our best picks page to see which ones we recommend.

Editor's Note: Looking for a video conferencing solution? Fill out the below questionnaire to be connected with vendors that can help.

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Video conferencing services allow you to meet and collaborate with others via a video feed. Unlike a phone call, video conferencing allows you to see those with whom you are meeting, just as if you were in the same room.

Video conferencing services can be accessed from numerous places, including internet-connected computers and smartphones. Additionally, depending on your business's needs, you can set up video conferencing in specific locations, like a conference room. With this, cameras are set up to show the entire room, with microphones able to amplify those who are speaking.

These services give those hosting meetings total control. Video conferencing services allow hosts the option to decide who can talk and be on video and who can't and the ability to share their screen. Hosts can also grant permission for others in the meeting to share their screens as well. For example, if someone attending the meeting is giving a presentation, the host can allow them to share their screen in order for everyone on the call to see a PowerPoint presentation.

For those unable to watch a video meeting or presentation, these services give attendees the option to join the meeting by phone. And while they won't be able to see what is going on, they will at least be able to hear what everyone is saying.

When it comes to cost, many video conferencing services charge on a per-host basis. This means that if you want multiple employees to host their own meetings, then they each need a user license. Having multiple user licenses also gives multiple employees the freedom to host video conference calls at the same time. With this cost structure, you are only paying for each host. There is no cost for others to join a meeting.

Prices for video conferencing services vary greatly. Many services offer numerous service plans that vary by the number of participants that can be in a meeting at one time, how many video feeds can be used simultaneously and how many other features are available.

Some services offer a completely free plan. They typically limit the number of participants to no more than a handful and often limit how long these video calls can last.

For paid plans, costs can range anywhere from $5 per host, per month to north of $50 per host, per month. In addition, some services require a minimum number of user licenses for certain plans.

Some services focus more on the number of participants on a video conference and not hosts. For example, you might pay $145 per month for the ability to host video conferences with 500 people. This type of cost structure is often used by services that focus on giving businesses the tools needed to host webinars.

As with any other purchase, it's important to know what you need to get out of your video conferencing service before you choose one. For example, a large company might need to loop in dozens of participants at once, while a smaller company might only require one-on-one conferences.

Here's what you should keep in mind when searching for a solution:

  • Number of participants: Consider how many participants are likely to regularly sit in on your conferences. With some services, you connect with a handful of participants for free, so if you don't need to connect with a lot of people, you might not pay much (or anything at all). Other services specialize in connecting a large number of users. The range is wide, so knowing what you need before you start looking can save a lot of time.
  • Video feeds: While many video conferencing services boast their meetings can host hundreds, if not thousands, of participants at one time, they typically limit the number of video feeds. However, while some services have a cap on the number of video feeds, others do not. Make sure you factor that in when choosing a service.
  • Ease of use: Don't let an unfriendly user interface hold your business back. Otherwise, you'll start presentations without essential participants watching, or miss an opportunity to connect altogether.
  • Types of meetings: With some high-end services, you can launch different rooms depending on the type of meeting you're holding. Do you host open-forum Q&As where everybody can give feedback? Are you giving a presentation or lecture and prefer that participants be muted? Know what kinds of meetings you'll typically host, or, if you host a variety of meetings, look for a service that accommodates all your needs.
  • Mobile experience: The whole point of video conferencing is to connect to people remotely, and sometimes, that means connecting from a mobile device. Like with service's user interface, try out a video conference service on both tablets and smartphones to make sure these participants have an equally positive experience as those connecting via desktops.
  • Video/audio recording: Sometimes, it's helpful to save the highlights of a meeting for later. Video and audio recording capability are essential if you like to go back and replay meetings or conferences. If your participants aren't great at taking notes, maybe an online archive of past meetings would be helpful. With this feature, you can save snippets of meetings for introductory or training materials for new employees. If this is important to you, research how much recording space you have available. Many of these services store the recordings in the cloud and limit how much space is available to each user.
  • Screen sharing: You can enhance meetings and presentations greatly by making them more interactive, and screen sharing keeps participants engaged. If you need to explain the finer points of a presentation or show a remote employee how to access certain documents, screen sharing can help you do it more quickly.
  • Room systems: Depending on your needs, you might want a room that can be used specifically for video conferencing, such as a conference room. If this is something you want, check whether the service you're considering can integrate with your conference room setup. Sometimes this requires using another vendor to equip the room with proper video and audio equipment. Other times, the video conferencing service itself can provide all of the necessary equipment for an added cost.
  • Application integration: Many video conference platforms allow you to integrate third-party applications, such as Microsoft PowerPoint. Sharing software that you already own within a video conference system can help you import presentations and documents. Moreover, many services have note-taking capabilities, and some allow participants to get in on the action with notes of their own. Consider which applications you'll use with your conferencing system and how much influence you want participants to have over a meeting. Another integration to consider is with your calendar or email client. Some video conferencing services provide plugins for programs like Google Calendar and Outlook. This allows you to quickly and easily schedule meetings.
  • Customer support: Last but far from least is the quality of a company's customer service. It's worth your while to call the customer service line of the companies you're considering to get a feel for how they'll treat you. When something goes awry, you'll want a tech support line that responds quickly and accurately, and treats you with the seriousness and respect your business deserves.

Once you've determined your needs, browse available free trials and try out the systems. Many services offer free trials that last anywhere from a week to a month; some even offer free trials until a certain amount of data is used. There's no need to go in blind when companies offer so many test runs. Take advantage of the free trials, and make sure a service truly meets your needs and addresses your priorities satisfactorily before you buy.

Video conferencing has expanded human communications much like how the telephone did more than a century and a half earlier. Emerging technologies will continue to enhance video conferencing as we understand it.

Incorporating augmented reality or virtual reality into video conferencing, in particular, makes for a more immersive, impactful experience. Imagine standing in a virtual space with your business associates, discussing operations amid a sea of interactive charts, schematics and prototypes.

AR and VR open up video conferencing to the possibility of collaborating across vast geographical distances as if the participants were physically in the same room. That future is rapidly approaching as the technology evolves; video conferencing is only going to become a more integral part of doing business in the digital age.

If you think a video conference service is right for you, check out our best picks page, which includes our top choices for various types of employers, our reasoning for selecting each one, and a comprehensive list of reputable video conference services.

Additional Reporting by Adam Uzialko.

Ready to choose a video conference service? Here's a breakdown of our complete coverage:

Editor's Note: Looking for a video conferencing solution? Fill out the below questionnaire to be connected with vendors that can help.

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Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based writer and editor with nearly 20 years in media. A 1998 journalism graduate of Indiana University, Chad began his career with Business News Daily in 2011 as a freelance writer. In 2014, he joined the staff full time as a senior writer. Before Business News Daily, Chad spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Chad has also worked on the other side of the media industry, promoting small businesses throughout the United States for two years in a public relations role. His first book, How to Start a Home-Based App Development Business, was published in 2014. He lives with his wife and daughter in the Chicago suburbs.