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Videoconferencing vendors meet demands with free versions


Among the many impacts of the worldwide coronavirus crisis are numerous travel restrictions and work-at-home mandates. This is leading to a rise in demand for videoconferencing and collaboration tools, as organizations look to keep the lines of communication and business information exchange open despite the physical separation of participants.

Several vendors that provide these platforms have begun offering free versions of their products, as they look to help meet the extraordinary demands for virtual meeting capabilities around the world.

Here’s a roundup of some of these offerings:

Avaya

Avaya Holdings recently announced that it will provide its Avaya Spaces collaboration software for free to education institutions, including colleges and universities, along with qualified nonprofit organizations worldwide.

Since January, Avaya has seen a 200 percent increase in video collaboration traffic on the platform. There is an especially immediate need in the education sector, as school and university administrators consider the safety of their students while ensuring continuity of their classes, engagement with their students, and delivering on their educational objectives, said Avaya CEO Jim Chirico.

[ Related:  COVID-19 and tech: New collaboration tools mean new security risks ]

Avaya Spaces provides a cloud meeting and team collaboration offering that lets people and organizations connect and collaborate remotely. In addition to integrating chat, voice, video, online meetings and content sharing, the platform provides a set of meeting and team collaboration features including voice and videoconferencing for up to 200 participants.

As a mobile-enabled product, Avaya Spaces gives users a secure way to track communications and manage tasks when travel and connectivity are limited. The company said it’s continuing to explore opportunities to provide assistance during the global crisis, including helping customers ensure that contact center agents can continue delivering support to their customers in the safest way possible through work-from-home collaboration technologies.

[ Related:Don’t let the coronavirus make you a home office security risk ]

CallTower

CallTower, which offers cloud-based unified communications and collaboration products, said it’s providing free Cisco Webex Meetings and CT Cloud Meeting powered by Zoom conferencing solutions, with no commitment, through June 30, 2020.

The company had previously announced 90 days of free Microsoft Teams Direct Routing. CallTower said it is prepared to deploy

Cisco Webex Meetings and CT Cloud Meeting powered by Zoom in less than 24 hours.

CallTower wants to enable all workers to stay connected and to work with free, no strings attached conferencing systems, said CallTower’s CEO Bret England. CallTower has prepared a Resource Center for Remote Workforces to provide information on organizing and managing a wide-scale rapid deployment of remote-work communication systems.

Cisco and Webex

Cisco has expanded the capabilities on its free Webex offer in all countries where it’s available, not only those impacted by the coronavirus.

Additional features include unlimited usage (no time restrictions); support of up to 100 participants; and toll dial-in (in addition to existing VoIP capabilities). In addition, through its partners and the Cisco sales team, the company is providing free 90-day licenses to businesses that are not Webex customers.

Cisco said it is also helping existing customers meet their rapidly changing needs as they enable a much larger number of remote workers, by expanding their usage at no additional cost.

The company also announced it is expanding its worldwide meeting capacity, scaling up further in the US and Europe, working with non-governmental organizations to support schools and other organizations, and partnering closely with customers that are rapidly scaling up their work-from-home efforts.

Cisco said it’s continually improving its worldwide connectivity by working with carriers to assist with last-mile connectivity, in order to reduce latency between end-users and the Webex cloud.

8X8

The provider of an integrated cloud communications platform recently said it is expanding global capabilities for the free, stand-alone version of 8X8 Video Meetings. The company has sped up the global reach and capabilities of the platform, providing organizations and employees with location-independent access to unlimited meetings through any internet-connected desktop or mobile device without any additional software.

Since the beginning of February, usage has increased significantly, the company said, with users from more than 125 countries now deploying 8×8 Video Meetings. The number of new users has more than tripled.

New and enhanced features of 8×8 Video Meetings include unlimited usage, with no restrictions on the number of meetings or meeting duration; international dial-in numbers in more than 55 countries, including local and toll-free options; and a browser-based interface that allows users to start or join meetings in a single click or touch.

Other features include calendar plugins for Google and Outlook that allow users to schedule and join meetings directly from their calendar; cloud storage for meetings recordings; support for live streaming of large meetings to YouTube; a permanent personal URL to a private virtual meeting space; real-time meeting closed captioning and transcription’ and machine learning-based noise detection and alerts for enhanced meeting experience.

Google

Google has begun rolling out free access to its advanced Hangouts Meet videoconferencing capabilities to all G Suite and G Suite for Education customers globally.

The capabilities include larger meetings, for up to 250 participants per call; live streaming for up to 100,000 viewers within a domain; and the ability to record meetings and save them to Google Drive.

These features are typically available in the enterprise edition of G Suite and in G Suite Enterprise for Education, the company said, and will be available at no additional cost to all customers until July 1, 2020.

Google said it’s continuing to scale its infrastructure to support greater Hangouts Meet demand, ensuring reliable access to the service throughout this period of higher demand.

Lifesize

Lifesize, a provider of video collaboration and meeting productivity products, announced that all organizations impacted by coronavirus worldwide are immediately eligible for an unlimited number of free licenses to use the company’s cloud-based video collaboration platform for six months.

The goal is to help organizations implement flexible, remote work policies during the crisis, and the offer allows both new and existing customers to quickly use video meetings and collaboration capabilities at scale.

As part of the offer, all businesses — regardless of industry or location — are eligible to receive unlimited hosts, meetings and call duration for Lifesize videoconferencing. Organizations can sign up for an unlimited number of accounts with up to six free months of Lifesize service. Existing Lifesize customers can add unlimited users at current paid service levels, allowing them to scale collaboration tools to every employee across their organization.

Lifesize’s platform supports video, audio and web conferencing for one-to-one and one-to-many meetings. Users can connect and collaborate through applications for iOS, Android, Windows and Mac devices, or natively through browsers including Google Chrome, Apple Safari, Microsoft Edge and Mozilla Firefox.

LogMeIn

LogMeIn is providing free emergency remote work kits for healthcare providers, educational institutions, municipalities and nonprofit organizations.

The offer covers organization-wide use of many LogMeIn products for three months through the availability of the kits, which include products for meetings and videoconferencing, Webinars and virtual events, IT support and management of remote employee devices and apps, as well as remote access to devices in multiple locations.

For example, the Meet Emergency Remote Work Kit will provide eligible organizations with a free site-wide license of GoToMeeting for three months, the company said. The offering also includes any current LogMeIn customers.

Microsoft

Microsoft is offering its premium version of Teams free of charge for six months and lifted existing user limits on its free version. 

Teams is a part of Office 365 and any organization that’s licensed for that suite already has access to the application. Anyone not licensed for Teams can log into the product and automatically receive a free license that’s valid through January 2021. This includes video meetings for up to 250 participants and Live Events for up to 10,000, recording and screen sharing, along with chat and collaboration.

The free version of Teams includes unlimited chat, built-in group and one-on-one audio or video calling, 10GB of team file storage and 2GB of personal file storage per user. Users also get real-time collaboration with the Office apps for Web, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote.

RingCentral

The company is offering its RingCentral Office free of charge to organizations that have been impacted by the pandemic, such as schools, healthcare providers and nonprofits.

RingCentral Office provides videoconferencing, team messaging, business phones, short message service (SMS) and fax. For teachers who now have to ensure students remain on their education tracks through distance learning, RingCentral’s videoconferencing capabilities, team messaging and screen sharing enable them to stay connected with students.

In addition, remote school staff and teachers can stay connected with students’ parents without having to use personal cell phones. RingCentral’s cloud-based phone system provides phone numbers to organizations and every individual enabling them to call and send/receive SMS using those business numbers.

Similarly, healthcare providers who need to check in on their patients can leverage RingCentral’s business phone service. In addition, faxing any documentation is being offered. For nonprofit organizations offering services to impacted people mainly via phone and text, the RingCentral solution platform can be deployed within minutes for the entire organization.

StarLeaf

StarLeaf, a provider of meeting room tools and videoconferencing services for enterprises, announced measures for supporting customers and new users to maintain business continuity and to enable remote working for employees during this time of uncertainty.

The measures involve a number of new product and service offerings, including the introduction of a free version of the company’s conferencing software, available worldwide. StarLeaf said it’s also providing customers with additional licensing flexibility to better support them during this crisis. This is in addition to providing resources and increasing service capacity to meet increased demand.

The free version of StarLeaf is available across all devices, requiring only an internet connection and an email address to get started. Users can meet with anyone on video, regardless of their location. StarLeaf is also offering free trials of its service through its worldwide sales team and partner network.

For StarLeaf customers who might need to enable remote working for their entire workforce for an unknown length of time, the company introduced new flexible conferencing license options. These options provide customers with the ability to increase conferencing capacity as needed.

In addition, StarLeaf said it’s launching a new remote working hub to support users and customers with best practices and resources for working remotely.

Zoho

Zoho, which offers a suite of business software applications including email and collaboration software, has launched a Small Business Emergency Subscription Assistance Program (ESAP) to help its customers worldwide weather the global crisis.

For up to 20,000 qualified paying customers with 25 employees or less, Zoho is waiving the cost of every application they currently use, for up to three months.

Earlier, Zoho had launched Remotely, a virtual productivity platform of 11 collaboration applications, provided to businesses of all sizes around the world for free. The software is designed to help companies effectively make the transition to a remote workforce. Since its release, more than 5,000 new companies are running on the platform, and that number is increasing every day, the company said.

Zoho has seen an average of 500 percent growth in use of its collaboration applications and 1,000 percent growth in daily new users of Zoho Meeting.

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