As the country remains largely in lockdown in response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, video conferencing solutions are experiencing an unprecedented boom. Students, sent home from schools in March, rely on them for lectures and communicating with faculty. Unprecedented amounts of people are suddenly working from home, and relying on these solutions for meetings and communication. Even our social lives have been relegated to video chat, in an effort to socially distance and prevent the spread of the virus. Many companies have risen to the occasion to provide secure, high-quality video conferencing on the scale necessary to meet this new demand (Cisco’s WebEx and Microsoft Teams come to mind) while others (cough, cough, Zoom) have not come off looking so great under the new levels of public scrutiny brought on by video conferencing boom. This week, Google made a big splash with the announcement that it is making its premium video-conferencing solution, Google Meet, free to the public. Let’s do a flyby of the announcement.
Secure, trusted video conferencing
To get an idea of just how big the video conferencing surge is, one simply needs to take a glance at Figure 1, pictured above. As of the week, the service is bringing in a whopping 3 million new users ever day (compared to 2 million new users daily in January). It boasts around 100 million daily meeting participants, who altogether rack up approximately 3 billion minutes of video conferencing per day. All said and told, Google says there has been a 30X increase in usage of Google Meet since January.
With the new announcement that Google Meet will be available and free for everybody in the coming weeks, it’s safe to assume this growth will only continue. At the beginning of next month (May), all you will need to sign up for Google Meet is an email address. Along with it will come some of the features G Suite’s business and education subscribers enjoy—screen sharing, real-time captions, simple scheduling, and adaptable layout options (such as Microsoft’s new expanded tile view, which looks great for meetings or virtual social gatherings).
Amidst the kerfuffle surrounding Zoom’s privacy and security issues mentioned earlier, Google understandably (as it’s true) touts its approach towards security: “make products safe by default.” The many security measures built into Meet include the ability for the host to admit, deny, mute, or remove meeting attendees if necessary. Additionally, Google doesn’t allow anonymous users to join meetings set up by individual accounts, thus preventing incidents resembling the “Zoombombing” phenomenon (when someone anonymously forces a Zoom screenshare to display obscenity during a meeting). Google also touts its “secure and resilient private network, its complex, difficult to guess meeting codes, and the fact that its video conferences are all encrypted during transit and during rest.
As mentioned earlier, all one needs is a working email address to sign up for Google for free, and begin using this new no-cost Meet solution. G Suite customers get a more featured version of Google Meet (such as the abilities to hold larger meetings, record the meeting, and provide dial-in numbers). Additionally, the free version sets a 60 minute time limit (though Google says it will not enforce this restriction until after September 30th. Another adjacent announcement from Microsoft this week was that it is launching a new edition of G Suite, called G Suite Essentials. G Suite Essentials seeks to provide a bridge between the free version of Meet and full G Suite offerings, by offering Meet with a more advanced feature set (including those features mentioned earlier in the paragraph). G Suite Essentials also includes Google Drive, Docs, Sheets and Slides of storage and content creation. G Suite Essentials will be available free until Sept. 30th, at which point it will switch to subscription. This strikes me as a savvy move on Google’s part—it’s likely many will opt to continue with a subscription once they see how it enhances their workflow and productivity. To be clear, the free version of Meet will continue to be available past Sept. 30th.
The timing of this announcement couldn’t be better, with more and more people relying on video chat for school, work, and play during the age of social distancing. Everybody likes free stuff, and there is a definite appetite for a more secure, transparent solution than what Zoom is currently offering. It’s hard to know how long Google Meet’s explosive growth will continue, but this announcement should throw some more gasoline on the fire. I’ll be watching with interest.
Note: Moor Insights & Strategy writers and editors may have contributed to this article.