An extraordinary increase in the use of video and audio conferencing is one of the many impacts of COVID-19.
In addition to the tragic personal toll and loss of lives, we all know COVID-19 brought comprehensive corporate impacts which are being felt globally across all sectors. The technology realm is no exception. Consider the changes we’ve seen in the use of the internet to communicate. With many people self-quarantined for weeks or months, many countries imposing isolation orders, and so many individuals working from home, millions of people who had never used VoIP or video conferencing before suddenly have a huge need for ways to connect with others in new ways.
How have the major VoIP service providers reacted to the huge demands created by the Coronavirus pandemic?
The VoIP service provider, Zoom, has become the early champion. Zoom use jumped from 10 million daily users in December to above 200 million in March. It has become the defining app of the coronavirus era.
Zoom owes it huge popularity to its straightforward interface. The app is easy to learn and it’s super user-friendly even for people who are uncomfortable with technology. The Zoom app allows people to connect with others for almost any purpose, whether it’s working remotely, joining a fitness class, completing online education, or keeping in touch with family and friends – all while adhering to social distancing norms.
But as Zoom use soared, people started looking at the security and privacy features of the app, learning that the app wasn’t as safe as claimed by the company. The calls were not entirely end-to-end encrypted, and data was leaked over to Facebook. Although the company promised fixes as soon as possible, some companies instructed staff to move to substitutes.
Google Meets by Google, with Hangouts video conferencing app for G Suite subscribers, offers one alternative that is giving tough competition to Zoom. Folks preferring Google Meets will get some new features in a couple of weeks. Javier Soltero, VP of Google informed Reuters that Meet will soon be united with Gmail to make it easier for users to join calls. The app will be revamped with a new layout that will allow up to 16 call participants at once like Zoom. Also, some background noise will be filtered out, including slamming doors and keyboard clicks. Meet will also deliver better video quality improvements suitable for low-lit environments. And these upgrades will not cost a single extra penny!
Also, Microsoft Teams saw extraordinary demand from a new remote global workforce. This helped Teams to get more traction in the consumer sphere, helping Microsoft to expand the scope of Teams to target a larger consumer base.
Finally, people all over the world began turning to WhatsApp video call and voice calls more than ever before as people were isolated from their family and friends. Facebook-owned WhatsApp saw a 40% increase in usage that grew from an initial 27% bump in the earlier days of the COVID-19 pandemic to 41% in the mid-phase. For some of the countries which are in the later phase of the pandemic, WhatsApp usage has increased by 51%. And last month Facebook revealed that video and voice calling in WhatsApp and Messenger have more than doubled in a few markets.
So, it’s quite clear that VoIP service providers have largely benefitted from the current pandemic condition. For personal social interactions and for work, people are adopting these tools at an incredible rate. A myriad of consumer apps are helping people connect across the globe and the usage of all the key social networking apps has grown.
So, it’s WhatsApp vs Zoom vs Google Meets.
The competition is fierce! We will focus during the remainder of this piece on how WhatsApp is working to compete with the other two top contenders, Zoom and Google Meets.
WhatsApp is preferred by more than 2 billion users globally. So logically, it should be getting the focus when it comes to group WhatsApp video calls. But millions of users have shown a preference for enterprise apps to stay in touch with their loved ones. One of the obvious reasons for this is when people organize group video calls, they tend to switch to platforms they are familiar with from their workplace like Zoom or Microsoft Teams.
There is another key reason that users are sidestepping WhatsApp: the WhatsApp video call limit. Until recently, WhatsApp allowed only four participants per video call. Compare that to Teams, which allows 20 participants in a video chat, and Zoom’s free plan, which allows up to 100 participants (although for only 40 minutes). Also, the complete-featured version of WhatsApp is restricted to smartphones.
To address this, WhatsApp recently announced a change to compete with Zoom, Google Meet, and Facebook Messenger. Facebook-owned WhatsApp increased the group WhatsApp video call limit to eight people. The new feature will be first available through a beta version of the app. Although this is a big improvement for WhatsApp, but still doesn’t compare well to its competitors (Google’s Duo raised its call participant limit to 12 recently), WhatsApp is working hard on multi-device support without compromising security. This could be a game-changer for group video calls.
Important: The higher participant limit on WhatsApp calls is only be possible on the latest version of WhatsApp for Android or iPhone.
Facebook also previously introduced Messenger Rooms which can accommodate up to 50 participants without any time limit. The IT company is also planning to add new ways to create rooms from WhatsApp, Portal, and Instagram Direct.
Clearly, security is a main priority and an advantage for WhatsApp. Rather than an email address, WhatsApp is tied to a phone number making the app more secure. And it can be used on both Android and iOS.
Another substantial change made by WhatsApp concerns limiting the number of times a message can be forwarded. The new limit applies to frequently forwarded messages. The limit kicks in once a message has been previously forwarded 5 times or more – then a message can only be forwarded to one chat at a time. According to WhatsApp, this is being done to stop the spread of misinformation during coronavirus and to constrain virality.
How to video chat with up to eight people on WhatsApp?
Limited to the latest beta version of WhatsApp
Version 188.8.131.52 on iOS and 2.20.133 on Android
On top of the group chat, tap on the call icon to make a group call and manually select the participants
If your group has more than eight participants, you will have to choose among the participants
The public’s sudden desire for enhanced ways to communicate via the internet due to COVID-19 has created huge opportunities and huge competition for all the VoIP service providers. This intense focus and increased usage are exposing limitations and security challenges. WhatsApp is stepping up to some of these challenges by introducing new features and enhancing its offering to stay in the race and give the biggest competitors a run for the lead.
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