Voice & Video Conferencing for the SMB

Voice and Video conferencing has become an essential tool for doing Business2Business (B2B). It cuts down on the cost and wasted time traveling to meetings and makes presentation and project collaboration much easier. Today’s platforms and software have many features that were previously found only on vendor hardware platforms such as HD voice and HD video with support for file sharing as well as remote control of the mouse and keyboard.

We are also finding voice and video conferencing (or video chat that amounts to much the same thing for SMB) for smartphones and mobile devices, what’s more they are free. So what are some of the best voice and video conference packages available for the SMB?

 

Adobe Connect

  • $45 per month

Adobe Connect runs across any platform that will run Flash though there are also clients that will run on smartphones allowing users to join meetings using iOS, Android and Blackberry apps. There is a downside to having an application authored totally in Flash and that is it can take a lot of fiddling around with browser setting to get all the flash features to work due to Flashes recent security issues. The issues with flash are not likely to go away soon and it is very problematic having to provide support for each participant joining or attempting to join a meeting. Google chrome and Firewall have both locked out Flash by default so you will need to go into advanced settings to allow it to run. This is a shame, as it is actually a great product with an add-in for screen and desktop sharing.

If you still wish to persevere then Connect uses three groups, hosts, presenters and participants. A host is someone with overall control of the meeting, a host gives a presenter rights to talk or show slides. The presenter’s screen is replicated to each participant. On the screen are video elements called pods that are video windows for things like the attendee lists, the chat box or for notes the presenter wishes to distribute to everyone.

The video conferencing itself has speaker follow where the currently active speaker is highlighted so everyone knows who is speaking. There are also administrative control over cameras and microphones.

Visit Adobe Connect for further information.

 

Cisco WebEx Meetings

  • $24 a month

Cisco WebEx is build upon Java so requires a Java capable desktop browser, there are also Android, iOS and Blackberry versions of the mobile app.

There is a free version which might suit those SMB would only envisage supporting meeting of three or less participants but it has limited features enabled. However don’t let that put you off as they key features of video chat works fine as do the desktop sharing , whiteboard and the document upload repository. These are just about all the tools you need to do basic collaboration in a small development project team so could be just what you’re looking for.

In the full version of video chat there is the normal focus on the participant who is talking but that can be over-ridden to focus on someone else, for example the presenter. WebEx also has a build in conference recording facility, which can record and store all the video files on the default server. Being stored on the server means you do not have to worry about distribution of the video, you can just send someone a link.

Visit Cisco WebEx for further information.

 

Citrix GoToMeeting

  • $49 a month

Citrix GoToMeeting works on any windows platform and there are apps for iOS and Android.

Citrix does not have a free version only a 30-day trial and it is clearly aimed at the professional market. The cheapest version starts at $49 for 25 participants, which should be ample for a SMB. One noticeable feature of GoToMeeting is that it uses several floating windows. One windows id for the video chat, one for the control panel, and one for icons for commonly used functions such as a whiteboard. It can all be quite confusing and a bit muddled.

However saying that GoToMeeting has some nice features lacking in the others such as dial in support whereby a participant on a phone can dial in to join the meeting in voice conferencing mode. There is also toll free method of access but that comes at an additional fee. Another nice feature but one that is bandwidth greedy is called HD face and this allows up to six 640×480-pixel pictures of participants to be shown on the screen at one time. The meeting presenter has control of which participants faces will be shown at any given time this conserves bandwidth and focus of the meeting.

Visit Citrix GoToMeeting for further information.

 

Google+ Hangouts

  • Free with a Google + account
  • $9 a month for Pro account
  • $49 for Business

This free group conferencing function allows up to 20 G+ users to chat in real time via their webcams, microphones or by text. The Pro version allows for 50 participants, and the Business version expands that further to 100 participants.

Users without camera can still be invited to join via voice or text but text is not recorded by default so you will need to log them manually for meetings. In order to setup a meeting in Hangouts is straightforward, from within G+ select “Start a Hangout” at the top right and then choose people to participate.

Hangouts is very similar to Skype Business in the way it works as it has one way desktop sharing where other participants can see your desktop but not change anything. You can also record and broadcast your meetings via ‘Hangout-to-Air’ or if you want, you can convert them into You-Tube video for everyone in the chat to access. There is also plug-ins for Google Docs and Slideshare presentations, which allow you to incorporate and share them during the meeting with other participants.

Visit Google+ Hangouts for further information.

 

Skype Business

  • $2.00 per user per month

Skype for business has long been the champion of the SMB for affordable high quality voice and video applications. Skype for Business takes the service a step forward with voice and video conferencing for up to 250 people (they do not need to be on Skype for Business). There is also full Microsoft Office integration so setting up meetings is trivial using Outlook.

Skype for business has all the now standard features such as desktop sharing, collaboration tools, integration with cloud services and whiteboard interaction. The drawback being there is no dial-in audio conference feature but the pricing and quality of the video conferencing and collaboration tools makes up for that.

Visit Skype Business for further information.

 

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