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April 29, 2020

Video Conference Wars: Google Lobs a Grenade

Has it pulled the pin?

By CBR Staff Writer

As video conferencing providers wrestle for market share in a segment that has surged like no other in recent months, Google chose today to throw a grenade into the increasingly competitive market — saying it would be offering its “Meet” conference tool for free to anyone with an email address.

“Starting in early May, anyone with an email address can sign up for Meet and enjoy… simple scheduling and screen sharing, real-time captions, and layouts that adapt to your preference, including the expanded tiled view“, Google said today, although admitting it was still scaling capacity.

Users will require a free Google Account, “as a security measure”. The offering will support multiple two-step verification options.

Dominant, if security-challenged Zoom also offers free accounts, and Google’s announcement, read more closely, suggests it’s a temporary lure to bring in more enterprise customers: organisations that aren’t paying G Suite customers and wanting to use Meet for free will need to make use of a new “G Suite Essentials” edition featuring Drive, Docs, Sheets and Slides.

This will be free until September 30, the company said. Pricing per seat for G Suite users (incl. Meet) is currently advertised at £8.28 for “business” users and £20 for “enterprise” users. (Interested CIOs can parse the difference here). That compares with Zoom’s £15.99, Bluejeans’ £13.99, and Slack’s £9.75,although owing to various differences this is not a strict apples-for-apples comparison.

The announcement comes as Meet’s peak daily usage has risen 30-fold since January, with the platform adding roughly three million new users daily. (Meet’s total daily meeting participants have surpassed 100 million, Google said. That’s a third of Zoom’s 300 million, but significantly more than Microsoft Teams’ last reported figure of 44 million, posted in mid-March).

Meet boasts a highly “secure and resilient private network” rather than using the public internet, Google boasted, runs entirely in-browser with no plugins needed, and is encrypted in transit and at rest if calls are stored in Drive. The offering is GDPR and HIPAA, compliant, as well as COPPA and FERPA for education, data is “not used for advertising, and not sold to third parties.”

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Continuing a recent trend of announcing launches that are not quite fully oven-ready, Google added that from next week, it will be “gradually expanding Meet’s availability to more and more people over the following weeks.

“While users might not be able to create meetings at meet.google.com right away, they can sign up to be notified when it’s available.”

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