Are Free Communications Apps Really Worth It?

Posted by Natalie DeCario on January 26, 2015 at 3:00 PM
Natalie DeCario

Choose Your Free Communications Apps Wisely

It’s safe to say that most people have heard of free apps, like Skype, that allow people to stay in touch with friends and family or even to help run a business. But are these apps truly free or do they come with hidden costs that can prove to be detrimental to a business?

A new study published by our friends at the telecom software reviewer, Software Advice, did some research to further examine these over-the-top apps and why people are turning towards them. The biggest reason people are opting to a free communications solution is to cut down on expenses. In fact, they discovered that it is possible to save up to 50% by replacing the traditional long-distance services with SIP Trunking. Check out our SIP Trunking in Plain English blog post to learn more about what this means!

VoIP is playing a large part in the adoption of OTT free apps because it’s become more common to send calls over wireless data networks (3G, 4G, and LTE) rather than over cellular networks. We all know VoIP is a fantastic technology, but let’s dig a little deeper to see what else Software Advice found on why people are turning towards these types of apps.

What features are most important? 

More than half of the respondents to this Software Advice survey reported that they use free apps at work and that freemium and open-source OTT options are used slightly more than paid solutions. From looking at the research, we can see that text messaging and instant messaging appear to be the most popular OTT app features. Oddly enough, video calling and web conferencing are the least used features.

Software Advice talked with Executive Vice President of Innovation at RingCentral, Kira Makagon, about this and I think she hit the nail on the head:  “OTT apps also help solve the challenges around mobile and distributed workforces by giving employees applications that are location, device and transport agnostic.” Since we’re in an age where our employees are all over the place, businesses need a reliable way to stay connected to their employees.

Check out this Usage of OTT Apps in the Workplace graph to see what other features people are using.

20150126_Usage_of_OTT_Apps_in_the_Workplace

 

What are the big issues? 

Much like with anything in this world, we have to weigh the pros and cons before we make a decision that could affect our livelihood. A few issues that arise for business who are looking to bring on free communications apps include limited functionality, limited knowledge (for the setup), and poor audio/video quality.

Take a look at this Disadvantages of OTT Apps in the Workplace chart to see some other challenges.

20150126_Disadvantage_of_OTT_Apps

When you compare free to paid communications clients you tend to see a big difference in the amount of features that are available to use. Some examples outlined in the study identify a few pain points that may not be available to those who use free apps including:

  •          Integrations with other kinds of software
  •          Customization around specific business processes
  •          Federation with partner companies’ communications solutions

However, some open-source communications systems offer these types of features, but they are very difficult to get set up. They require extensive technical knowledge and this makes it very challenging for some business to use the apps to their full potential.

The quality issues with SMS or instant messaging are completely separate from those associated with audio/video calling and web conferencing. When it comes to the free OTT apps, 36% of users report “poor video quality.” Mobile VoIP apps also present voice quality problems, but it is more than likely to be because of the wireless network and not the actual software.

Other comments about the drawbacks of free communications apps include lack of security, flexibility, adaptability, ads, and lack of effective support. When faced with problems like these, it is crucial that you assess your business needs and ensure they are in line with the features that come with free solutions. If you’re not getting what you need then you have to consider seeking out options for bringing on a paid business communications solution.

What are the benefits to using Free Communications Apps? 

Now that we’ve discussed the most popular features and the drawbacks that come along with free apps, let’s talk a little more about some of the benefits. Effectiveness and familiarity were two of the biggest benefits that jumped out to me in this study. Let me explain these further…

When looking at free instant messaging solutions, 29% of respondents rated them as extremely effective. That might be because it’s a relatively basic technology or it might be because instant messaging has been around since the 1990’s. I believe that it has something to do with the fact that the majority of OTT users are between their late 20s and early 30. These Millennials grew up with the instant messaging technology (Who doesn’t remember talking to StudyBuddy and SmaterChild?!).

To show you the other advantages associated with OTT apps, we’ve included a great chart below!

20150126_Advantage_of_OTT_apps_TextAnother point that adds to these apps being extremely effective is that IT professionals use them more than any other employees. We all know that IT professionals have to use reliable communication solutions in order to keep a business running smoothly. They’re also very up to date with the latest trends in technology so it’s a safe bet to trust the solutions that your IT guys trust.

Moving on to the familiarity piece I mentioned above, 62% of respondents who use OTT text messaging solution at work identified that they are familiar with the apps because they use it in their personal lives. It’s very interesting and makes perfect sense; if you can utilize the same app in the workplace that you do at home, why not save the business money and use it if it fits the needs?

Conclusion 

It all boils down to this: Will free communications apps solve the problems that your business faces? If you think the answer is yes, then ask yourself a few questions before making a decision:

  • Does this free app have all the features I need?
  • Do we have the right level of knowledge in order to set it up correctly?
  • Do we rely heavily on high video/audio quality?
  • Will our employees be able to communicate with the rest of the company and the customers properly?

If you feel that a free app will meet all of your requirements then try it out and see how it works. However, if you realize that you’re sacrificing quality for price then you might need to look into some paid alternatives.

To wrap up this review I’d like to share a word from the author Daniel Harris. He is a VoIP and telecom researcher at Software Advice and this is his take on the entire study, “This report shows that though employees frequently use free communication applications in the workplace, they encounter a number of problems when utilizing these consumer products in a business context. There were significant voice and video quality issues with these apps for video calling (36%), VoIP calling (32%), and web conferencing (24%). Organizations employing consumer communication applications for such modes of communication might want to switch to a hosted phone system capable of providing truly unified productivity tools.”

Thanks for reading and we hope this helps you on your journey to making better decision for your business. Please subscribe to our blog to have future posts delivered right to your inbox!

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Tags: VoIP, Cloud Telephony, VoIP Research, SIP Trunking

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