What is web conferencing and how does it work?

Web conferencing is revolutionary technology that allows businesses to carry out productive, interactive meetings from multiple locations. Read on to discover more!

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It’s to no surprise that the number of businesses using web conferencing services has boomed in recent weeks. As companies across the UK and all over the world adapt to home working, web conferencing has become an invaluable tool in allowing businesses to continue ‘business as usual’ as much as possible. 

Thanks to web conferencing, colleagues can carry out virtual meetings and present to other team members as if they’re all in the same room. Colleagues can see, talk, document share and screen share using the tools supplied by the web conferencing provider. You can find out more about these features – and web conferencing in general – in this article. 

If you'd like to compare the best professional conferencing solutions, tell us what your business needs, and we'll find the best providers for you. It could be an important first step towards ensuring business continuity.

What is web conferencing?

Web conferencing is a virtual meeting that’s hosted on the servers of a third party supplier. Thanks to web conferencing software, meeting members can see, speak, and share screens with each other via the internet, enabling real-time collaboration. Third party suppliers include Zoom, Google Hangouts, Slack, and VoIP phone system providers. 

The term web conferencing is regularly used interchangeably with video conferencing, however there are some crucial differences. Unlike video conferencing, web conferencing is carried out on a remote server. This technically means that anyone can join the meeting from any location – as long as they have a link directing them to the virtual meeting location (find out how this works in the next section).

How does web conferencing work?

While video conferencing usually requires a range of video conferencing equipment and an on-premise server, web conferencing can take place with any device that has a camera and a microphone – be it a laptop, tablet, or mobile phone – from any location on the planet. This is because the meeting is hosted via the internet, rather than on a business’ internal network. 

We’ve used Zoom to demonstrate how web conferencing works. Both Google Hangouts and Slack web conferencing work in a similar way.

schedule meeting on zoom

When you schedule a meeting, the web conferencing system automatically generates a link (a meeting ID), which every person attending will need. This will navigate participants to the same slot in the remote server.

join meeting on zoom

If you’re wanting to join a meeting, just pop in the meeting ID. Most web conferencing systems are compatible with Google Calendar, which means a link is auto-generated within the calendar event.

shared screen zoom

If you’d like to present a Powerpoint, or show the other participants a screen on your computer, simply select the share screen option.

zoom whiteboard

You can even select to share a whiteboard, which provides a place for everyone in the meeting to note down their ideas, facilitating collaboration.

If you're looking for the best conference phones (hardware) for small businesses on a budget, take a look at our dedicated, up-to-date guide to business conference phone.

Using VoIP for web conferencing

As we’ve mentioned previously, your VoIP phone system may already come with web conferencing capabilities. To use it, make sure all of your employees have the softphone application provided by your supplier installed on their PC, tablet, or phone. 

You’ll then be able to set up a web conference meeting by selecting people in your phone book. Once the meeting is set up, you should be able to use features that may already come with your phone system, including call recording, and attendee polling.

If you’d like to learn more about how a VoIP phone system can facilitate web conferencing for your business, why not talk to one of our partners? They’ll be able to advise you on the best VoIP phone system for your business, bearing in mind your web conferencing needs. 

Simply provide us with a few basic details about your business and an idea of what you’re after, and we’ll put you in touch with the best people to help you.

Why use web conferencing?

Web conferencing is a quick, free, and simple way to get your business collaborating remotely. It’s intuitive to use, and often comes as a feature of a VoIP phone system in the form of a softphone app.

So what are the benefits of web conferencing?

  • Have face to face meetings over the web
  • Base packages are free to use and come rammed with useful features
  • Collaborate on the same screen with virtual whiteboards
  • Present slideshows by sharing your screen with other team members
  • Start or join meetings anywhere from any device
  • Upgrade to packages that enable you to personalise the user journey with your business’ branding

If you think web conferencing could benefit your business, make sure to compare top providers before you select one by answering a few short questions about your business' requirements.

Cloud-based vs on-premise web conferencing

As we touched upon at the start of this article, web conferencing and video conferencing are terms that are used interchangeably and not necessarily correctly. On-premise web conferencing is a prime example. 

On-premise web conferencing – also known as video conferencing – is a completely different product to web conferencing as we know it. 

Instead, on-premise conferencing uses a business’ internal phone system structure to make and receive conference calls. This means calls come in via a conference bridge – a server that allows a system to answer multiple voice or video calls at the same time.

However there are pros and cons to both:

Cloud-based conferencing prosCloud-based conferencing cons
It can be used anywhere from any deviceUsing a shared server means connection may not be secure
It’s free (paid plans are available)The quality of call relies on your internet speed
Lots of useful featuresMeeting hours are limited if you don’t upgrade
Doesn’t require an in-house tech team
On-premise conferencing prosOn-premise conferencing cons
High quality video and audioIn-house tech team required to maintain it
Call is carried out on internal systems, meaning it’s more secureExpensive to install
Can host more people on one call Doesn’t offer all the in-call features of web conferencing

Web conferencing software FAQs

Is web conferencing free?

Yes, the great thing about web conferencing is that the base package from providers is free. You get access to lots of useful features, including screenshare and whiteboard for no additional cost.

The only thing to bear in mind is that some free web conference call services come with a limited number of meeting hours, which means you may need to upgrade if your business hosts regular meetings. 

What are the different web conferencing tools? 

Web conferencing software comes with a bunch of useful web conferencing tools. These include: screenshare, presentation mode, whiteboard, polls, file sharing, instant messaging within the call, and audience interaction features. 

What are the different types of web conferencing? 

Web conferencing – or cloud-based conferencing – refers to conferences that are carried out over the internet. On-premise conferencing uses the telephone system network to transfer call data, which passes through both a conference bridge, and a PBX. 

Should I choose Zoom or Skype for my small business?

To answer that, head on over to our page Zoom vs Skype. We put the two web conferencing software behemoths to the test, assessing them across the metrics of features, pricing, limitations, and customer support. Who will come out on top?

Aimee Bradshaw Senior Writer

Aimee is Startups' resident expert in business tech, products, and services. She loves a great story and enjoys chatting to the startups and small business community. Starting her own egg delivery business from the age of 12, she has a healthy respect for self-starters and local services.

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