Free Video Conferencing Vs. Subscription-Based Services: Should You Pay for Video Conferencing?

Does free video conferencing or a subscription-based services best suit your needs?

From the edges of a border crossing many, many miles from home the activists of environmental watchdog Global Witness sit for days counting logging trucks illegally transporting timber.

It is tedious, demanding work, but it represents the cutting edge of an international effort to uncover corruption and abuses of natural resources wherever they occur throughout the world. This is the digital age, however, so there’s no need to feel lonely.

Global Witness is a modern organization that relies on video conferencing to link those in the field with those back in the non-government, non-profit organization’s head offices in the U.S., Europe, the UK, and Asia.

So important are these real-time links between activists scattered around the globe that Global Witness recently moved away from its reliance on free video calling services and signed up for a full subscription, enterprise-level platform.

Which raises the question; if a non-profit group finds it necessary to pay for video calling, should you consider it too?

Free Video Conferencing or Subscription?

If you video call for purely social reasons there’s no need to ever pay for a real-time face-to-face communication. The evolving range of free chat services like Messenger, WhatsApp, and Kik can supply intimate and group video chat comfortably, and pack in the ice-breaking avatars, emojis and even streaming live media that enhance social situations. In the business world, however, there’s a real decision to be made.

Global Witness’s stated reasons for switching to a paid service, at least according to the published account on provider BlueJeans’ website, were reliability and availability. If availability can be interpreted as both ease of use and functionality across mobile and desktop devices, we’d agree those are two valid concerns.

We’d also add interoperability with internal and third-party apps, tech support, and the ability to stage group video calls in the hundreds as our top five reasons to consider paying for a subscription service. You can readily see the difference between free and paid services by considering the most common freemium service, Skype.

Skype Vs. Skype for Business

Skype may be synonymous with video calling, but it’s far from the only service to consider if you’re after a high-end business solution. In fact, it frequently trails Cisco WebEX, Citrix GoToMeeting, and ClickMeeting in the many annual “best of” lists that circulate the web.

The difference between Skype and its dedicated business tool Skype for Business is a clear example of what you get when you pay for video calling. That price, by the way, varies from around $2 a month per user for the basic Skype for Business service, through to more than $17 for the full service.

They key concern for most businesses will be reliability, and the big advantage the best paid services bring is bridging technology. It is private hardware that carries the digital information needed for the audio and visuals of a video chat. Traditionally bound up in in-room systems, that advent of cloud computing means these services are now available without all the infrastructure.  

In truth, that reliability and the higher quality visuals that come along with it are probably reason enough to buy a subscription if the budget allows.

Still, there are some other points of difference.

Should You Pay for Video Conferencing?

Back to our Skype V Skype for Business comparison. Both services offer the same compatibility across mobile and desktop devices, so that’s a wash. It’s also where the similarities end.

The paid service will let you stage a group call of up to 250 people, while the free version tops out at 10. You may not want to speak to 250 people at once, but there are probably good reasons for even a small business to gather together 15 to 20.

The paid service also integrates with Office 365, making it easy to link and share documents, calendars, and other everyday business niceties. If you fork out for the top subscription, the full Office suite is downloaded directly to every user’s machine, which can be a money saver over buying new software every year.

And finally, there’s the matter of technical support. With even the lowest paid subscription you get 24/7 “enterprise level” support, which is not only a practical benefit when things go wrong, but creates a far more professional impression during a meeting than asking the office intern to go switch things on and off at the wall.

We live in a capitalist society and as such are accustomed to getting a little more from our products and services by paying a little more. That’s certainly true of video conferencing.

However, if your business needs only to talk among itself or occasionally reach out to a client or two, if standard definition video is clarity enough, and if you are willing to schedule meetings and exchange files outside your video calling platform then you’ll be fine with a free service.

You’ll just have to put up with the odd Skype drop out every now and then, but then, you’re unlikely to be leaving people all alone in a far-flung jungle as a result.

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