Comparison of online meeting platforms
There are at least three dozen different videoconferencing and online meeting platforms. WikiPedia listing them all in a quite comprehensive overview. Some of the most frequently used ones in patient advocacy and healthcare are Microsoft Teams, Cisco WebEx, Google Meet, Skype for Business, Zoom and GoToMeeting.
All of them usually require to install a software on the PC (Windows or MacOS) or an app on an mobile device (Android or iOS) to be able to join a teleconference. Some platforms also allow joining just via a browser, but usually functionality for participants is then much more restricted.
The basic features for online meetings of all those platforms are quite similar, like
- audio and phone dial-in (for traditional audio teleconferences) ,
- video support (to see participants who are using webcams),
- sharing screens (for sharing presentations),
- live chat (to type messages to all participants of an online meeting),
- security (meeting passwords, waiting rooms, encrypted communication),
- meeting recording (audio or video)
which makes comparisons between platforms sometimes quite difficult. They differ e.g. on whether you can attend on mobile devices (only audio, or seeing also shared screens), how well they cope with many videostreams at the same time in limited internet bandwidth settings, whether they offer break-out rooms, or on ease of use for newcomers. Apart from this, choice is often down to a matter of personal taste, prior experience with the platform, policy of the technology or procurement departments, or financial offers or donation programmes to non-profit organisations.
Therefore, we are highlighting just some differences here, which were observed subjectively during hundreds of patient advocacy teleconferences over the past two years.
This text was last updated on 11 June 2020 and reflects the state of play at that time.
Zoom is probably one of the most frequently used online meeting platforms at the moment.
The free “Basic” Zoom license has a limit on the duration of teleconferences and number of participants, but provides dial-in numbers from a huge list of countries and offers one of the richest set of functionalities. A “Pro” license license lifts all restrictions on functionality of the “Basic” license, but only offers holding one call at the same time. If multiple accounts/hosts are needed, the 10-hosts Business license is provided on 50% discounts to non-profit organisations if they are registered at TechSoup.
What stands out on Zoom is the capability to deal well with larger video conferences, showing up to 49 videos of participants on one screen at the same time while still sharing presentation slides. Usually even with three dozen video streams and six dozen participants of a meeting, Zoom still performs well on relatively low Internet bandwidth in the home office setting without any major disruptions in audio or video. Even when slides are shared, participants can still see the webcams of up to 49 participants at the same time on screen, while other platforms are often very restricted on how many videos can be shown at once which are often not the ones who are speaking.
The Zoom audio technology is quite sophisticated in filtering echo and noise and enhancing audio quality. The user interface seems relatively easy to use even for less experienced users, for example connecting headsets and cameras, finding the mute button, viewing shared screens and presentations, or using text chat.
Initiating ad-hoc breakout rooms works very well, so as in a face-to-face meeting, taking separate group discussions in multiple subgroups can be set up instantly just with a couple of clicks by the meeting host while the meeting is ongoing.
Meeting recording is possible both on the PC of the meeting host or in the cloud. The meeting is recorded as an MP4 file, including videos and shared screens, so they can be cut and posted as a webinar. A separate webinar extension license is not required for this.
The mobile app of Zoom works quite well. Participants can either join by phone, or join by mobile data where they can also see presentations on their phone. When bandwidth changes or when you need to leave Wifi, participants can switch during the call between a data-based connection and phone dial-in. The “tap to speak” function in the app is quite useful in noisy areas, as the mike is only enabled while you press the button on screen.
While security and privacy of Zoom was a concern in early 2020 and thoughtless non-use of security options (e.g. meeting passwords, waiting rooms, posting meeting IDs on social media screenshots etc), a lot has been done recently on increasing Zoom security, and many of the security features have now been enabled by default. Recently Zoom has also introduced a feature to select the server regions, so meeting hosts can ensure that data traffic is not routed to e.g. USA servers where data protection regulation is less strict than in the EU.
We have produced specific guides on setting up a Zoom meeting and participating in a Zoom meeting here, as WECAN is providing Zoom licenses to all WECAN members during the COVID period.
Microsoft Teams seems to become one of the most popular platforms for use in commercial enterprises, given it belongs to the Microsoft family, is often part of corporate licensing schemes, is part of larger package of “GroupWare” software, and has links into other proprietary products of the Microsoft family in terms of chats, file sharing and other services. It seems to perform well on larger video and audio conferences.
In May 2020, Teams also introducted functionality to catch up with Zoom, e.g. “raise hands” function or virtual backgrounds. However, in comparison to Zoom, Teams can only show the video of up to 9 participants at a time when a presentation is shared, so it’s still not possible to see a larger number of participants at the same time, making it harder to identify the face of who is speaking. Teams is also very focused on the Microsoft software family, so its webbrowser-based version of Team seems to have challenges when using e.g. Firefox or Safari browsers, requiring participants to use Chrome or Edge. Breakout rooms are currently not supported.
GoToMeeting has been around for many years and is, like WebEx, probably one of the most established, reliable and solid teleconference platforms. It features global dial-in numbers, screen sharing, online chat, and specific extensions to run and facilitate webinars (GoToWebinar). The interface has recently been updated and the new option offers more streamlined meeting planning, a better user control panel, and a more user-friendly meeting experience, with a more modern feel, whilst also being familiar to those who have used GoToMeeting previously. There is also the option to use the previous version, which retains ease of use for those more comfortable with using the version that they know.
The updated version also provides a number of features to support a collaborative meeting environment similar to those offered through other platforms. These include easier screen-sharing, better chat functions (options to send messages to specific people or groups of people in addition to all participants) and the option for participants to take mouse / keyboard control for better presentations and collaborative working.
The mobile app works well, you can join teleconferences and see the slides.
Rooting from mainly audio-based conference with little evolution in its user interface, GoToMeeting has quite limited capabilities in terms of video conferences. It should be noted, however, that the updated version of GoTo Meeting offers the option to see the videos of all participants (up to 100) which is useful for learning environments or larger meetings.
We have produced a specific “deep dive on setting up a meeting in GoToMeeting” in this WECAN Resource Center.
Cisco WebEx Meetings
Cisco WebEx Meetings is part of a suite designed to facilitate easy collaboration and communication for small-large businesses, offering integrated audio, video and content sharing.
The Meetings platform offers a number of features as with other videoconferencing platforms: electronic hand raising, in-meeting chat, presentation streaming and tools, recording, screen sharing and collaboration tools such as virtual whiteboard.
The user interface is modern, and easy to use. Setting up meetings is straightforward, and there are a number of integrations which can make this process easier, for example integration with Outlook and Google, and also the option to import contacts for easy invitation and directory management.
The meeting platform offers the capability to show up to 200 video participants on-screen at the same time, which is great for larger meetings. The streaming and quality is reported to be high, with users consistently ranking this high compared to other videoconferencing platforms.
Collaboration is further supported through access to both Meetings and Teams as part of the packages offered. Teams was designed to compete with other well-known collaboration tools such as Microsoft Teams and Slack, and has many of the same features including integrated calling, collaboration tools and workspaces.
Cisco WebEx offer a free trial (7 days, maximum 24 hours of meetings) where you can test the functionality and see whether this is a good match for you and your organisation. For the paid options, the packages offered are limited compared to those offered by competitors and increased cost does not necessarily translate to additional features or functionality in this case. The number of possible participants is low compared to other options, such as Zoom, which could be limiting.
There are also some reports of browser limitations around screen and content sharing. As of 20 March 2020, Cisco reported that content sharing is only supported in Chrome and Firefox, which may present problems if you have meeting attendees using other browsers, and should be accounted for in any technical testing prior to meetings.
Skype For Business
Skype for Business was designed as a corporate teleconference platform and seems to work well when all participant accounts are administered centrally. Many companies have been using Skype for Business for their corporate teleconferences. However, external participants sometimes struggle to join using the computer because the installation of browser plug-ins fail, the software insists to sign in with Microsoft account details, or the web version refuses to use the computer’s built-in audio while the same hardware is working well on other teleconference platforms.
When invited to calls based on Skype for Business, we recommend that participants are ready to join using phone dial-in when the Skype for Business software creates challenges.
Skype for Business will be discontinued by Microsoft on 31 July 2021, and Microsoft advises to migrate to Microsoft Teams.