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It has never been easier to stay in touch, thanks to massive growth in the number of online communication tools now readily available to anyone with an internet connection. In fact, there are now so many communication tools to choose from, it can be hard to distinguish which is the best choice! And with $70.2 billion in revenues in 2019, Canada’s communications industry has a range and number of providers that can seem overwhelming.
So here we’re going to look at everything you need to know to make the best, informed choice about which online tools to use, for both personal and commercial purposes, and break down the basics of all the major providers. To get us started, below is a list of some of the top online communication tools on the market.
Over 90% of Canadians actively use the internet and the various methods of communication it offers, but surprisingly few people understand how online communications works. An online communication tool is really any internet-based system that allows two or more people to interact - either internally within a closed system, or externally. These tools can be synchronous (occurring in real time), or asynchronous (when there is a gap between sending and receiving).
Many online communication tools have become second nature to Canadians, both at home and at work, and this includes email, social networking, online forums, online messaging apps and VoIP (voice over internet protocol). All of these rely on a steady internet connection (through dial-up, broadband, wireless, cable, satellite, or DSL) and access to an internet-enabled device (laptop, desktop, tablet, or smartphone). Most need both the sender and recipient to have internet access (with the exception of VoIP, which can be used to call a landline or cell phone). This isn’t a problem though, as the vast majority of Canadians have both at-home and at-work use of the internet.
Here we’re talking about the five major types of online communication tool:
Almost everyone uses online communication tools in their day-to-day, and on a personal level they are useful for:
Commercially, online communication methods have never been more useful; as the number of remote employees grows, companies are increasingly reliant on video conferencing and collaboration tools in particular. In business settings, communication tools can be used for any number of reasons, such as:
The use of online tools is not only seen as beneficial for productivity (94% of businesses say they improve work output), but they also have a significant impact on the bottom line. Savings related to travel costs, employee retention, and environmental impacts means that businesses can save anywhere from 60-75% in annual costs by going entirely remote and relying on these online communication tools.
What is it?
Video conferencing is exactly what it sounds like - a meeting between two or more people, held online, where all users engage with the meeting via their computer’s audio and visual equipment.
Users must have a camera and microphone to fully take part in online meetings.
What is it?
A chat is an online text-based conversation, and can be done through an instant messenger or via a web browser.
Depending on the platform used, requirements can be extremely minimal; for example: an internet connection and a web browser.
What is it?
Whiteboards are digital versions of their namesake - classroom whiteboards. These have become very popular in online learning and workplace environments, as they allow multiple users to write and draw on shared spaces, online.
As well as access to the platform and computer compatibility, users often require a physical mouse to enable them to draw. This need is circumvented if users have a touchscreen.
What is it?
Email is one of the most widely used online communication tools, allowing users to send messages, files and other digital items from anywhere, to anywhere.
Both sender and recipient of an email must have an email address and access to an internet-enabled device.
What is it?
VoIP refers to audio conversations that happen over an internet connection, rather than a traditional phone line.
Headsets are not a strict requirement, but for regular users of VoIP they can significantly increase call quality. For businesses deploying specific VoIP services, hardware such as phone adaptors or special phones may be required.
Deciding which communication tool to use means carefully analysing your needs. In particular, consider the following:
Below is a summary of the major providers of online communication tools and their differing capabilities and costs. This list is by no means exhaustive, but does include the most popular services.
|Provider||Audio Calls||Video Calls||Chat||Other Capabilities||Cost & Restrictions|
|Slack||Yes||Yes||Yes||Additional security available
Compatible with other software tools
Multiple chat channels can co-exist
No limit on number of users
Enterprise (cost varies)
(Features vary with plan type)
|Zoom||Yes||Yes||Only during meetings||Calendar integration
(User caps and meeting time caps exist for each level)
Able to send SMS
|Basic use between account holders is free
VoIP use is available on a subscription or pay-as-you-go basis
|Google Hangouts||Yes||Yes||Yes||Integratable with SMS
Integratable with other Google applications
Custom controls for admins
|Free calls to other users
VoIP calls available as pay-as-you-go worldwide VoIP calls free within North America
Requires Gmail or Google+ access, or dedicated app
|FaceTime||Yes||Yes||No||Effects and emoji can be used in real-time||Only available on iOS, free to connected users|
|Microsoft Teams||Yes||Yes||Yes||File sharing
Connected with SharePoint
Multiple chat channels can co-exist
|Teams is available for free with Microsoft O365, but unavailable for other users|
|Zoho Cliq||Yes||Yes||Yes||Screen sharing
Workflow automation options exist on the paid platform
|GoToMeeting||Yes||Yes||Only during meetings||Screen sharing
VoIP upgrades available
Both plans limited to 150 participants
|Yes||Yes||Yes||Advanced security features||Free for all users with the app
Web-based version available
An online communication tool is any internet-based system that allows two or more people to interact. These tools can be synchronous (occurring in real time), or asynchronous (when there is a gap between sending and receiving).
There are many video conferencing tools available, depending on your operating system and devices. The most popular include Zoom, Slack, Skype, Zoho, Hangouts and Teams.
Video conferencing safety varies with the provider, with some platforms enabling additional security layers and encryption, and others not. It is always a good idea to look into a platform’s security systems before using it, especially if business-sensitive or personal information is being shared during a call.
VoIP means “voice over internet protocol”, and refers to audio conversations that happen over an internet connection, rather than a traditional phone line.
VoIP is used by both individuals and companies as an alternative to traditional phone lines. They are particularly popular in large businesses.
Almost all of the most popular online conferencing platforms have at least some functionality available on a free basis; paid versions also exist for most of these tools, with the functionality and cost varying by provider and number of users. To understand the cost-effectiveness of any tool, first assess what you need it for, how many people will be using it, and what additional functions you need.
There are several chat platforms that allow users to send secure messages. Of the most commonly used providers, WhatsApp has consistently shown to be the most secure.
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