A recent announcement by Internet video calling startup ooVoo provided yet more evidence that VoIP is evolving into VVoIP, or voice and video over IP. It also made clear that IP video is becoming a credible communication tool for SMBs. The announcement said ooVoo had upgraded its Macintosh client software to parity with its Windows client. That seemingly small step significantly increased the service's usefulness for small companies. OoVoo's CEO also revealed plans to increase that usefulness even further in coming months.
OoVoo provides Internet video calling as both free and "premium" paid services. Both types use downloaded client software for Windows and Mac users. Until now, though, the Windows software had more advanced capabilities than the Mac client. That put a significant number of users, inevitably including some key small-business users, at a disadvantage. Now both versions have the same features and functions.
One such feature is the ability to create video chat rooms. Such rooms, which individual users can set up and name, provide a Web location for up to six people to talk to and see each other via their PCs' Web browsers, microphones, speakers and Web cams. Other features include the ability to record video calls, and to send email video messages — five minutes long in the for-pay premium services, and one minute long in the free service. A premium-only feature is high-resolution video, accompanied by audio quality that's significantly better than was available in earlier Mac versions. The premium services also allow file transfers among participants.
The most important change for Mac users, however, is the ability to buy premium services at all, in the form of monthly subscription plans. Previously only Windows users could buy such services. That makes a big difference for small businesses. Whereas the free service allows only one-to-one video calls, the premium plans allow conferences with three video participants for $7.95 per month up to six participants for $17.95 per month. The paid services also allow outbound calling, for additional fees, to up to six regular phones. A bundle of 500 minutes costs $9 per month, with 1,000 minutes going for $15 per month.
The combination of multicaller video and phone communication turns ooVoo premium services into an attractive replacement for traditional small-business conference calls. Being able to connect up to six video participants, bringing all the benefits of visual as well as verbal communication, would alone significantly improve the communication ability of small companies. And the option to include, via regular phone connections, another six people who are away from the office makes it even more useful. After all, few conference calls occur — or are even necessary — when everyone is at their desks. In addition, the paid services make it possible to invite participants who don't have ooVoo software to join conferences using their Web browsers (again, a feature that formerly excluded Mac users because of discrepancies in browser technology). That could prove a particularly effective tool for impressing customers or other outsiders.
OoVoo has even more business friendly features in the works. In July, for example, it will introduce a corporate billing and administration option, according to CEO Philippe Schwartz. That will allow companies to include all of their employees in the same account and share packages of outbound phone minutes among them. The employees will be also able to share contact lists, making it easier to initiate calls. And they'll be able to share documents during calls, thanks to latest software's ability to put video windows in a sidebar. All in all, it's clear that ooVoo has discovered what many VoIP startups have: That while consumer popularity may boost user numbers, businesses users boost the bottom line.
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