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What is the difference between audio and video conferencing?

Audio and video conferencing each have benefits and drawbacks. Learn the difference between audio and video conferencing to decide which best suits your meeting needs.

The use of technology for both personal and business communications is on the rise and hit an all-time high during the COVID-19 pandemic that forced many to work from their homes. Both audio and video conferencing options are useful, but come with their own set of benefits and drawbacks. Let's look at the differences between audio and video conferencing and how businesses can choose the right conferencing platform to satisfy their business goals.

What is audio conferencing?

Audio conferencing is a voice-only communications tool that enables multiple callers to join in a conversation by dialing into a conferencing bridge through the public-switched telephone network (PSTN) or across the internet using voice over IP (VoIP).

In most cases, audio conference participants are provided an access number or web URL, a conference ID and possibly a secure PIN to identify the participant and prevent unauthorized access to the call. Once joined, remote participants can hear each other as if they were sitting in the same room. The caveat, of course, is that participants cannot see or physically interact with others in the virtual meeting.

Because audio conferencing is voice only, meeting organizers may opt to email pertinent documents to attendees ahead of time and verbally walk participants through these documents. While this method of document sharing does work, many believe a better option is to use screen sharing -- a feature available in most video conferencing platforms.

What is video conferencing?

Video conferencing is video-enabled communication between two participants in a peer-to-peer call or between multiple participants via a platform such as Cisco Webex, Microsoft Teams or Zoom. In the past, enterprises deployed their own video conferencing platforms and associated conferencing hardware. However, modern SaaS options have moved these platforms to cloud services that are paid for on a monthly or annual basis.

Video conference participants are required to have access to a broadband internet connection and a PC, tablet or smartphone with a video camera and microphone. Participants will receive a link to the meeting from the meeting organizer, possibly with an associated passcode for security purposes. When the meeting begins, the link directs the participant to connect using a supported video conferencing application or a compatible web browser.

Video conference tools not only provide participants with audio and video streams but also include other meeting collaboration features such as screen sharing, chat, file sharing and digital whiteboards. These added features further enhance the virtual conferencing experience and create efficiencies that are not possible using voice-only conference alternatives.

Web and video conferencing services have also converged. While web conferencing initially focused primarily on sharing content over the internet, the growing demand for video has led web conferencing providers to add video capabilities.

Making the choice between audio and video conferencing

While video conferencing tools offer more capabilities compared to audio-only alternatives, they do come with a few drawbacks. For example, video conferencing platforms require more bandwidth and lower network latency compared to audio conferencing calls using VoIP. Thus, care should be taken to ensure all participants meet the minimum internet broadband requirements for these types of communications platforms. Failure to do so can cause real-time streaming audio and video issues. If the necessary network requirements can't be met for video conferencing, an audio conference may be a better option.

That said, most video conferencing tools use modern compression algorithms and techniques that reduce network throughput and latency requirements. That means that most businesses and households can take advantage of the communications and collaboration benefits that video conferencing tools offer.

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