Google Makes Meet Free for All

Video tool rolls out to consumers and businesses

This week, Google Cloud announced that it’s making its video conferencing solution, Google Meet, available as a free service for everyone: consumers as well as businesses.

Launching in early May 2020, Google Meet will allow up to 100 participants per meeting. As part of a trial period that runs until 30 September, each meeting can be up to 24 hours long. This will drop to 60 minutes per meeting from October, but the tool will remain free to use. The one catch, perhaps, is that every participant in the meeting must have a Google identity, be that a consumer Gmail or G Suite account. Google argues that this is to prevent anonymous and unauthorized participants joining calls and reinforces its positioning in security and privacy.

This is the first time that a Google product designed for business use has been made available to consumers (as opposed to the other way around). It means that, unlike Gmail, Meet won’t be supported by advertising, as is the case with the consumer version of Gmail, for example, and nor will Meet data be used for advertising. The service will also include the full security capabilities of the business product, including end-to-end encryption and support for users to enrol in Google’s Advanced Protection Program to guard against phishing and account hijacking.

Shining the Spotlight on Google Meet

Launched in 2017, Meet — formerly called Hangouts Meet — has previously been available solely as part of the broader G Suite offering, which packs 20 applications into a single business solution and is now used by more than 6 million paying businesses (for more details, see Transforming Working Experiences with Google G Suite). As a result, Meet has remained largely out of the spotlight, in the shadow of more successful products like Gmail and Google Drive.

However, Meet has come into its own as Covid-19 creates an increased need for remote working. Google reports that its tool now has more than 100 million daily meeting participants, with peak daily usage increasing by 30 times since January. The service is now hosting 3 billion minutes of video meetings and adding 3 million new users every day. These are impressive numbers given the tool’s relatively low profile; for comparison, in late April Zoom reported it had 300 million daily meeting participants and Microsoft reported 4.1 billion daily meeting minutes on Teams.

Like many of its rivals, Google responded to the growing demand in the early days of the crisis, extending access to Meet’s premium capabilities to all G Suite customers, and it has since lengthened this offer until the end of September.

The company has also recently accelerated the release of users’ most-requested features including: the launch of a 4 x 4 grid layout, a low-light mode that uses artificial intelligence to adjust the user’s video to make them more visible, and artificial intelligence-enabled noise cancellation capabilities that were introduced on 22 April. Earlier in April Google also announced the integration of Meet with Gmail, allowing users to start or join a meeting from the Gmail user interface. This solution is clearly a big focus for Google right now.

New Meet-Led Microbundles

It may be tempting to view these moves simply as Google jumping on the video communications bandwagon to address current demand. But there’s actually another story unfolding here. Google has for some time been looking for ways to grow adoption of the broader set of apps in G Suite. Historically, Gmail has been the biggest on-ramp for G Suite, driven by the appetite to migrate e-mail to the cloud. However, for many businesses, this all-in approach to G Suite is somewhat overwhelming and doesn’t allow for customers taking a more gradual approach to adoption through some of the individual apps in the suite.

In response to this, Google is now launching two new microbundles, G Suite Essentials and G Suite Enterprise Essentials, which both fuse Meet with Google Drive and Google Docs, the company’s file sharing and productivity tools respectively. G Suite Essentials limits meeting participants to 150 and caps Google Drive storage at 100GB; the enterprise version supports up to 250 participants and 1TB of storage, and features live streaming, meeting recordings and enterprise security capabilities such as data loss prevention and Google Vault. These offerings, which will roll out in mid-May, will be available for free until the end of September, at which point licensing costs will kick in (Google hasn’t yet confirmed pricing).

Google Cloud has taken steps in this direction before, releasing a standalone version of Google Drive in 2018. However, it now sees Meet as a strategic conduit for adoption of G Suite as Meet is starting to pull the broader G Suite offering into new accounts. This new solutions strategy is steered by G Suite’s new vice president and general manager, Javier Soltero, who joined the business six months ago from Microsoft.

Mr Soltero is also behind a renewed push to build market awareness of G Suite, which has suffered from a lack of marketing despite being a stepping stone to forming broader relationships with C-level executives within user organizations. The company is now reinforcing its positioning of Meet and G Suite more broadly, bigging up the security, reliability and scalability as well as the inherently collaborative nature of its technology. By exploiting consumer usage and awareness as well as opening up opportunities in the business market, Google hopes to transform public perceptions of its suite of collaboration and productivity applications and capitalize on an already accelerating wave of adoption growth.

This is a really positive move for Google and highlights the depth of investment in this area of Google Cloud’s portfolio. The company has been a largely unseen and unacknowledged challenger in this space for a while, but it may now be on the verge of a big shift both in market perception and adoption.