Zoom has had a stellar couple of years. The video calling app went from relative obscurity to the most common way for people to see friends and family while confined to their homes.
Despite the worst of the pandemic being behind us in many parts of the world, Zoom's popularity has endured. According to data from EmailToolTester, it's the top video calling platform in 44 countries around the world, including the UK, US and Australia. It's become the go-to method for companies to communicate, especially following the more permanent shift towards working from home.
There were some privacy concerns surrounding Zoom at the start of the pandemic, but that was helped with a tightening of security credentials and introduction of end-to-end encryption in October 2020.
Zoom's free tier supports up to 100 participants, but there are some key features reserved for paying subscribers.
How long is a Zoom free meeting?
Zoom's free tier used to allow two participants to stay in a meeting for up to 24 hours. But in May 2022, the company announced it would now be limited to 40 minutes.
That's the same restriction that has always applied for anywhere between three and 100 participants. Once that mark has been reached, everyone will be kicked out of the call. This is probably the most frustrating thing about Zoom, but it acts as an incentive for people to pay for a subscription.
They start at £11.99/US$14.99 per month or £119.90/US$149.90 per year, with the cheapest subscription extending the time limit to 24 hours. More expensive plans remove the limit altogether, and it's worth noting that only the host needs to subscribe. See the full range here.
How do I get around the Zoom time limit?
If you want your meetings to last longer, you don't necessarily have to use another app. Following the recent introduction of a two-participant time limits, this workaround applies to all calls made via the free tier:
- Open Zoom and sign in if you haven't already
- From the home screen, click the Schedule icon which looks like a calendar
- Set the date and time for when you want the meeting to roughly start and end (to the nearest half hour)
- Scroll down to the Calendar heading and make sure Other Calendars is selected before clicking Save
- All the info about the meeting will appear, including the all-important ID and joining link
- Copy this and send it to all your potential participants
Once the call gets close the official 40-minute limit, a countdown clock will appear in the meeting window. At this point, the host should choose Leave Meeting (not End for All!). While it might look like the meeting has ended, if everyone clicks on the original joining link or enters the same ID, a new 40-minute period will start over again.
There's no limit on how many times you can do this, so in theory, you could spend many hours in one meeting, albeit with breaks every 40 minutes. It's not a perfect solution, but perhaps enforced regular breaks from work commitments isn't the worst thing in the world.
Will unlimited Zoom calls ever been free again?
Very occasionally, Zoom removes the 40-minute limit within the free tier, although this only usually lasts a few days. The last time it did this was over Christmas and New Year in 2020, but that wasn't the case last year despite the Omicron variant spreading rapidly.
There's no indication Zoom is planning to make what are usually paid features free of charge. But if anything changes, you'll probably hear about it on the official Zoom blog first.
What if I don't want to use Zoom?
Although Zoom has been the most popular video conferencing software in the last couple of years, it's by no means the only one. Microsoft Teams also seen significant growth in its active user base, although you're limited to 60 minutes in the free tier. For the full range of collaboration features, you'll need a Microsoft 365 subscription.
It's a similar story for Google Meet, which will also kick you out after an hour has elapsed. Both services also allow for up to 100 participants to join.
Other alternatives come in the form of Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp or FaceTime, with the latter now offering basic functionality for Android and Windows devices.