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In the wake of the global COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, video conferencing and business messaging software and solutions have become a vital tools used to keep people connected. With millions of workers new to working-from-home looking for the right setups and devices to stay productive, technology companies have responded by making some of their premium video conferencing, team communications, and messaging solutions available for free for a limited time.

For entrepreneurs and small to midsize businesses (SMBs) that are scrambling to pivot their business operations, having access reliable video conferencing and group messaging solutions helps establish some normalcy in uncertain times. 
Working remotely comes with various challenges including strained internet bandwidth, distractions, and disconnections. Successfully setting up conference calls through various tools enables businesses to move forward and collaboration to take place.   

The Tech Industry Responds

Last week, Google CEO Sundar Pichai announced on Twitter that they would be enabling free access to various video conferencing and communications tools for schools and businesses. “We want to help businesses and schools impacted by COVID-19 stay connected: starting this week, we’ll roll out free access to our advanced Hangouts Meet video-conferencing capabilities through July 1, 2020 to all G Suite customers globally,” Pichai tweeted.

Microsoft soon followed suit as Jean-Philippe Courtois, Microsoft Executive Vice President and President for Microsoft Global Sales’ Marketing and Operations, announced that Microsoft’s Teams collaboration platform will be available free for six months so that the company’s employees, customers, partners and communities can continue working remotely. Microsoft Teams’ free version offers unlimited chat, search, one-on-one audio and video calls. In addition, the platform gives users 10GB of team file storage so they can upload and share files to on another. It also offers 2GB of personal file storage per user.

Cisco Webex has similarly responded by giving the free Webex tier additional capabilities. “Effective immediately, we’ve expanded the capabilities on our free Webex offer in all countries where it is available, not only those impacted by COVID-19. This includes unlimited usage (no time restrictions), support for up to 100 participants, and offers toll dial-in (in additions to existing VoIP capabilities),” said Sri Srinivasan, SVP and GM, Team Collaboration Group at Cisco.

Intermedia AnyMeeting announced yesterday that it has made its AnyMeeting video conferencing and webinar service available at no cost through December 31, 2020. “This is to support remote workers – and support our SMBs in mitigating the risk to and prioritize the well-being of our communities that rely so much on their goods and services,” the company said.

Let’s look at what’s available, how to get it, and what you need to know for each of these available tools. 

(Image Credit : Microsoft)

Cisco Webex

Cisco Webex Meetings is available by signing up for a free Webex personal account. Go to https://www.webex.com. Enter your personal email and you’re supposed to receive a message once your Webex environment is ready. I signed up with my email address and it took around four hours before I received an email response that my account was good to go. 

When available, the free Webex Meetings plan offers meetings with 100 participants, HD video, screen sharing, and a personal room for use as long as needed. If you live in a country that is not eligible for free Webex personal accounts, Enterprise Trials for Cisco Webex are available. To find out more or to see which countries will have access to Cisco Webex meetings, check out their help center.

Microsoft Teams 

In the face of difficulties and remote work challenges due to COVID-19, Microsoft has made its Microsoft Teams messaging and collaboration solution free for everyone and not just for existing Microsoft 365 subscribers. 

To access Microsoft Teams simply use your work or school email to sign in using this link. People using email addresses like Gmail or Outlook can sign up for a freemium version of Microsoft Teams here.

IT professionals can also access Microsoft Teams even if their business isn’t licensed for Teams. They can contact their Microsoft partner or sales representatives to access the Office 365 E1 plan free for six months. For educators, teachers, and students a free version of Office 365 is available for free to all educational institutions.

People teleconferencing(Image credit: Cisco Webex)

Google Hangouts Meet

Google has made its Hangouts Meet video conferencing solutions available for free until July 1, 2020 and has unlocked various premium features such as meetings for up to 250 participants per call with live streaming for up to 100,000 viewers within a domain. Also available is the ability to record meetings and save them on Google Drive.  Usually available in the Enterprise edition of Google G Suite and G Suite Enterprise for Education, these features are now available at no additional cost for all customers until July 1, 2020.

To avail of Google Hangouts Meet, Google says users should visit their  learning center page, or follow the instructions outlined in their message to G Suite admins.   

Intermedia AnyMeeting is now available free of charge until December 31, 2020. Effective immediately through the end of 2020, Intermedia is offering free Intermedia AnyMeeting Pro video conferencing licenses for their customers and partners. With AnyMeeting Pro, remote workers can hold global on-line meetings, using high definition video and audio conferencing, screen sharing, call recording, chats, note taking and more, with no restriction on the duration of each meeting.  Simply head over to Intermedia’s website and set up an account to avail of the service.

Also available is a free Webinar Pro license per account. Webinar Pro enables companies to hold larger live broadcast events for up to 200 people, such as corporate all-hands meetings, webinars, lectures, religious services and other virtual events. Intermedia has developed a toolkit for SMBs and remote workers with useful resources.

Caveats and Considerations

Note that the sudden spike in video conferencing and messaging usage will undoubtedly tax the internet and data infrastructure. This means that while these free cloud-based Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) tools are convenient and easy to use, don’t expect them to work optimally 100 percent of the time. 

Cisco revealed that they continue to see a 700 percent increase in adoption of their solution over pre-outbreak rates. The amount of people using their home internet connections to work from home due to this pandemic is unprecedented and will test the limits of networks and providers alike. 

Further Reading

Video Conferencing Software Reviews

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