Updated July 2021
In 1979, video killed the radio star.
Fast forward a few decades, and it’s video conferencing that’s killing work commutes, long-drawn office meetings, in-person events, and even office dress codes.
If you’ve been using video conferencing to chat with other people on your team, manage customer service, or just keep your business afloat in general—you know exactly what we are talking about.
Luckily, it has worked out well for most of us.
But here’s what nobody seems to be talking about—conferencing over audio is playing an equally important role in helping businesses connect remotely—without the pressure of facing the camera.
Given its sudden popularity, video conferencing is the “shiny new object” that everybody is gravitating towards right now. But audio conferencing—which basically helps us achieve the same goal—doesn’t always get its due credit.
(We know because we help hundreds of small businesses communicate with their staff and customers every day using RingCentral’s video and audio conferencing software.)
So, which is a better option for work: audio or video conferencing? What’s the opportunity cost of using just one or the other?
In this post, we are going to answer all of that, plus a few other questions:
- What is audio conferencing?
- What is video conferencing?
- The difference between audio and video conferencing
- The pros and cons of audio and video conferencing
- The biggest mistakes that people make when choosing a conferencing software
Shopping for a video conferencing tool? (Or just curious about what to look for?) Grab the free checklist to help you choose the right one for your team or business.
Audio conferencing is a method of connecting multiple people on different devices on the same phone call. This could be through a conference-call function on a desk phone—where one person patches different callers together—or via the Internet, with a number that all parties dial to connect from their mobile phone or even their laptop.
Video conferencing connects multiple people on different devices in a face-to-face, virtual chat using cameras that are either built into the device (a phone or laptop, for example) or attached to the device (a webcam). This type of conferencing is always done via the Internet, usually with a central dial-in number or link to the meeting.
The biggest similarity between voice and video conferencing is that they’re both real-time communication channels. But that’s where most of their similarities end.
There are three fundamental ways video conferencing is different from audio conferencing:
- The format in which they are carried out
- The technology that makes them possible
- The costs associated with them
Obviously, video conferencing uses video as its primary content format (although audio is an inherent part of it). Audio conferencing, on the other hand, can take place without the need for a face-to-face setup.
On the tech side, video conferencing demands high-speed internet, higher streaming bandwidth, good quality audiovisual gear, and so on.
Audio conferencing doesn’t necessarily require a complex technical setup either—it can be as simple as plugging a phone in and making a call.
Of course, the audio conferencing requirements among business circles are much more complex than that.
The above two differences between video and audio conferencing solutions tend to make video conferencing the pricier option because of its high-definition video and high-fidelity audio requirements.
Here’s a simple table to further understand the difference between audio and video conferencing systems:
|Video conferencing||Audio conferencing|
|Multimedia in format||Audio only|
|Includes audio conferencing by default||Is a subset of video conferencing|
|Requires high-speed, high-streaming internet bandwidth||As simple as phoning someone from your phone|
|Gives you other collaboration options like screen sharing||Doesn’t let you have visual aids during calls|
It’s important to note that none of the features listed above position video as a “superior” option to audio conferencing—or vice versa. That’s because they can both be beneficial depending on what situation you find yourself in.
As an aside, if you plan to be able to work from anywhere, you’ll most likely need both options handy. (And in our humble opinion, most businesses are better off adapting and becoming comfortable with both video meetings and audio conferencing anyway.)
Next, let’s look at the strengths and weaknesses of both conferencing technologies.
Video and audio conferencing systems are like parts of the same whole—they are means to the same end but deliver on their promises a bit differently.
Some advantages that video conferencing offers might seem redundant to you, but it might solve something really important for other people’s business requirements.
All this to say—there is no objective answer to which is a better conferencing solution. Your specific use cases shape your perception of what’s good or bad about an audio or video conferencing system.
That said, here are a few pros and cons of voice and video conferencing solutions—based on how you perceive them.
The pros of video conferencing solution
- It’s the closest thing to meeting in person
First, the biggest perk: Video conferencing is the closest you can get to real-world, face-to-face meetings. If you have clients or teammates in other countries, having meetings over video is pretty much expected in most companies.
This is crucial in a business context because 93% of all our communication is non-verbal in nature.1 As humans, we’re hardwired to pick up on each other’s micro-expressions—a frown, a squint, or pursed lips—which helps us communicate better with each other based on those cues.
- It (usually) comes with other neat features too
Some people think that video conferencing lets you have virtual meetings and that’s it. But of course, that’s not all that video conferencing tools can do. That’s because most video conferencing solutions these days come packed with so many useful features like screen sharing, annotating, and more:
Need to mock up a design draft or document while you’re on a virtual meeting? Tools like RingCentral Video let you do that through handy digital annotations:
- It helps you reduce travel costs and time
And this is probably the biggest advantage of having a video conferencing tool. Whether you’re using a free or even paid solution, in the long run, you’re most likely still saving more money (and valuable time) just from not having to travel as much.
Cons of video conferencing
- It can be prone to poor connection
High-quality video conferencing calls require high internet speeds—making it a bit challenging for everyone on the team to have the same jitter-free experience.
For instance, suppose one of your remote teammates is taking part in a video conference from their log cabin in Golden Gate Canyon, Colorado. Because the internet infrastructure in the mountainous region isn’t great, their audio may break up quite a bit, or they might experience a lag in video.
It’s not a huge problem nowadays, but still a consideration—especially if you want to work from a far-flung area that doesn’t have this infrastructure set-up yet.
- It usually costs more (than audio conferencing)
Video conferencing requires you to invest in high-quality equipment like a laptop with a webcam (or a standalone webcam), a mic, maybe noise-cancelling headphones—and video conferencing software and equipment.
When you need these things to have a video conference, obviously there will be some costs associated with it. Most of these are one-time costs though, and the only recurring cost is the monthly or yearly subscription fee that you’ll have to pay to a video conferencing vendor to use their product.
The cost is also dependent on how complicated your video conferencing requirements are. In most cases, the more sophisticated your conferencing needs, the more it will cost you.
But again, you’re probably still saving money over the long run since you’re reducing travel costs.
If you’re concerned about budget, try to streamline the number of tools you’re using. For example, instead of paying for a video conferencing software, an audio conferencing software, a task management tool, and so on, try to find versatile tools that can do multiple things well. This way, you’re not paying for a bunch of disparate apps and tools that might not even be used regularly—and you don’t have to spend as much time managing all these different tools.
- People are becoming more conscious of video meeting fatigue
This is a weird one since the problem doesn’t lie with the technology but with how we’re using it.
Sometimes, this could be because the app’s just difficult to use—maybe it has a complex user interface that comes with a steep learning curve.
But generally speaking, video fatigue is real:
This might explain the reason why many attendees like to disable their cameras during live video calls.
(The good news is, it’s easy to solve this problem. You don’t have to make every call a video call! A phone or voice-only call, in most cases, can still do the trick.)
Some apps let you switch easily between both types of calls. For example, you can switch from a voice-only call in RingCentral to a video call with a simple tap:
The pros of audio conferencing
Now, let’s look at the things that make audio conferencing a viable option for team communication.
- It’s what most people are used to
Conference calling over audio doesn’t really demand a lot of setup. Most people can just use their business phone or a cloud-based audio conferencing tool to call someone instantly from wherever they are, whenever they want.
Now, you could also just use your cell phone to do audio conferencing for business, but if you have to make these calls regularly for work, we’d recommend getting a user-friendly audio conferencing software like RingCentral. Here’s why.
First, these types of software will usually give you a unique business number that will show when you call clients, prospects, or vendors. That means you don’t need to buy a separate phone number for personal use and business use.
One of the neat things about RingCentral is that your conference participants don’t need to download an app to join your call. You can invite your team members, clients, or vendors to join your conference from their phones or computers with a dial-in number or meeting link:
- It’s straightforward
Audio conferencing tools don’t come up with a lot of fancy options. You just have a few basic choices like dialing in, rejecting or hanging up calls, adding other participants, or muting yourself.
It’s simple, and gets the job done—especially if you don’t often need to share your screen on calls.
- It’s generally cheaper than video conferencing
Audio conferencing is pretty affordable because it doesn’t require high internet bandwidth nor does it demand extra equipment like mics or webcams.
And even if you decide to splurge on good quality gears, audio conferencing hardware is relatively more affordable than video conferencing hardware.
(Although if you’re already using a video conferencing software, it probably already covers what you’d need for audio conferencing.)
Cons of audio conferencing
Every cloud has a touch of grey. In the case of audio conferencing, there are a few drawbacks that might limit the potential of your office meetings.
- It’s not as good of a communication channel for serious conversations
In audio conferencing, you don’t always know who is talking, when to interrupt, or when to speak up.
And when you’re having high-stakes meetings with clients who are upset, or when you’re pitching a VIP prospect, having video on is often essential.
Audio-only meetings also leave plenty of room for guesswork when you don’t have a lot of non-verbal cues to bank on. In an audio conferencing setup, you have to be really good at correctly interpreting the voice and tone of other people to understand their true sentiments.
It’s not an ideal arrangement for young teams who communicate better in person or through videos where they have absolute clarity in terms of what is being said.
- It doesn’t have as many options for collaboration
Brainstorming on an idea through audio only is challenging.
For instance, if you’re presenting an annual report to your team over an audio call, all the other participants will have to pull up that file on their laptops and manually navigate to the section that you are going over.
This lack of functionality will force you to fall back on other communication channels like email or chat, causing you to litter important data across many channels.
- It’s not as engaging
In most cases, audio calls don’t quite hold the same sway as videos.
It’s easy to lose your interest during an audio call when someone is just droning through two hours of quarterly review metrics without any visual aids.
Unlike video calls, audio conferencing doesn’t require you to maintain eye contact with the camera or paying attention at all times. (Although to be honest, people don’t always maintain eye contact in video calls either.)
Video and audio conferencing are both branches of the broader umbrella term called teleconferencing, which includes other nuanced forms of conferencing technology such as telepresence or web conferencing.
The primary goal for all the conferencing technologies is the same, i.e., to enable remote teams to communicate efficiently. They differ in the ways of how they form and function.
But most businesses assume that these are mutually exclusive options. Take a look at this keyword search data from Google Trends as an example:
The red line indicates people’s online search for video conferencing software—and how its demand has spiked following the lockdown.
The blue line represents people’s interest in audio conferencing software, which is obviously dwarfed by the video conferencing software’s popularity.
Most people look at voice and video conferencing solutions in binary either-or terms.
The reality? Why not have both?
To be honest, today, the lines between “should we use audio or video conferencing equipment?” are blurring more than ever.
And both are equally important for modern businesses whose future depends on communicating with remote team members, clients, and prospects.
You don’t have to pay for two separate tools when just one software can fulfill all your conferencing needs.
Take the RingCentral app, for instance. It’s an affordable communication app designed for remote teams to keep all your conversations—messaging, video conferencing, and phone calls—all in the same place:
Got a a campaign report to present to your team? Just use the RingCentral app’s video conferencing and screen sharing features to deliver a killer presentation.
But you don’t always need to use video for meetings. For instance, when you’ve lots of ad hoc meetings that demand your presence, you can use the phone feature in the RingCentral app to join the meeting while you’re getting work done on your car or walking your dog in the park.
🕹️ Get a hands-on look at how RingCentral works by booking a product tour:
💰 You can also use this calculator to see roughly how much your business could save by using RingCentral to support your team’s communication with each other—and clients.
From “audio or video conferencing” to “audio and video conferencing”
As you’ve gathered by now, the thought we want to leave you with in this article is—why not use both voice and video conferencing if you are getting the best of both worlds for the price of one?
Most businesses will still need a phone, no matter how popular video conferencing gets. And with more and more folks working from wherever they want, having a video option will most likely become more and more important.
So, find yourself a tool that does both and give your team the flexibility to meet face to face virtually—or keep the video off.
Originally published Nov 20, 2020, updated Jul 06, 2021