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Free video conferencing: Coronavirus spurs special deals from WebEx, Google, others

The most effective means of avoiding catching coronavirus is simply by avoiding people. That's easier said than done at work, but free video-conferencing offers from Cisco Webex, Google, Logmein, Microsoft, and Zoom are making it more affordable.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

UPDATED: Twitter just told all its 5,000 workers to work from home because of the COVID-19 coronavirus. It wasn't the first, and it won't be the last. Your company may be next. Fortunately, many video-conferencing services are now offering free access to their services for a limited time to help make life easier during the pandemic.

Cisco's WebEx, for example, reported that traffic on its backbone connecting China-based Webex users has increased by 22 times since the outbreak began. At the same time, it's seen four to five times as many users in Japan, South Korea, and Singapore, with the average time spent on Webex video meetings doubling among users in those countries. Simultaneously, free signup rates in countries with infections have increased by 700% or more.

Of course, these companies aren't doing this out of the goodness of their hearts. They're hoping that, after a taste of the free stuff, you'll be happy to pay for more. In the meantime, these services can help you keep in touch with your work buddies and keep your workflow flowing. For more details about these video-conferencing, see: Best business video-conferencing services.

In alphabetical order, here are some services offering special deals in response to the coronavirus:

Long-time conferencing service WebEx's default-free plan offers you conferencing for up to three users with HD video, screen sharing on desktop and mobile devices, and limited recording options. It supports up to 50 participants per meeting, with meeting times capped at 40 minutes and online storage limited to 1GB.

With its special, Webex is offering unlimited usage with no time restrictions, support for up to 100 participants, and toll-call dial-in in addition to existing VoIP capabilities. This offer is being made with a free 90-day license to businesses that are not already Webex customers.

Google, with 8,000 employees in Ireland, has already put its remote working conferencing to the test when it asked for all staffers to work from home for fear of possible coronavirus infection. 

Google isn't offering free conferencing services to new users, but it is rolling out free access to its advanced Hangouts Meet video-conferencing capabilities to all its G Suite and G Suite for Education customers. This includes larger meetings, for up to 250 participants per calll 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, but they will be available at no additional cost to all customers until July 1, 2020. 

LogMeIn is another experienced video conferencing company that usually comes with a 14-day free trial. Now, according to the company, starting immediately, it will provide critical front-line service providers -- including eligible healthcare providers, educational institutions, municipalities, and non-profit organizations -- and current LogMeIn customer with free, organization-wide use of many LogMeIn products for three months through the availability of Emergency Remote Work Kits. This includes its flagship program, GoToMeeting and GoToWebinar.

Microsoft Teams, which is more of an Office 365 feature than a separate service these days. In response to the virus threat, Microsoft is offering a new six-month Office 365 E1 trial offer that includes full meetings, collaboration and workflow capabilities and will enable all global customers—e.g., hospitals, schools and businesses—to start using Teams immediately. 

In addition, beginning March 10, Microsoft is rolling out updates to the free version of Teams that will lift restrictions on user limits and make it possible for users to schedule meetings for video calling and conferencing. The free version of Microsoft Teams was already impressive in its own right. It supports up to 300 members, with guest access, one-on-one, and group video and audio calls, shared files (2GB per user and 10GB per team), screen sharing, and document collaboration using online Office apps.

My own particular favorite video-conferencing service, Zoom, is offering, for its Basic (free) users in China, unlimited meeting time for conferences with more than two participants. Like Microsoft Teams, its default-free offering is good enough for many small-to-medium businesses (SMB). Its free tier allows unlimited 1-to-1 meetings group sessions of up to 40 minutes and 100 participants.

Other major conferencing services, such as Slack and Zoho Meetings, haven't announced any special deals. I strongly suspect they and all other conferencing services will be offering new deals soon. The demand for remote-meeting software is spreading faster than the virus as worry infects the business world.

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