Of all the video calling apps to see growth during the coronavirus pandemic, Zoom's rise has arguably been the most striking.
Once focused mainly on business users, the software went from around 10 million daily meeting participants in December 2019 to 300 million just four months later. The subsequent introduction of end-to-end encryption in October 2020 added an extra layer of security.
With many countries seeing restrictions reintroduced as we head into winter, it's set to remain popular for the foreseeable future. One of its big attractions is a free tier which offers an excellent range of functionality, including support for up to 100 participants.
No Zoom time limit for holiday celebrations!
Plus, the company is lifting the 40-minute limit a few times over Christmas and New Year to allow families to celebrate together without risking their health any more than necessary.
The first date is 17 December, for the last day of Hannukah. You'll be able to call without time limits from 3pm GMT (10am ET) until 11am (6am ET) on 19 December.
Then the limit will be removed on Christmas Eve and Boxing Day, from 3pm GMT (10am ET) until 11am (6am ET) on Boxing Day.
The final dates are New Year's Eve and New Year's Day, with the same timings as for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
How long is a Zoom free meeting?
Zoom's free tier allows people to be in a meeting for up to 40 minutes. 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 per month, 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?
- 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.
What if I don't want to use Zoom?
Although Zoom has been the most popular video conferencing software over the last few months, it's by no means the only one. Microsoft Teams also seen significant growth in its active user base, although you're limited to 45 minutes in the free tier. For the full range of collaboration features, you'll need a Microsoft 365 subscription.
If you're looking for a service that works in a similar way to Zoom, consider Whereby. It's offering unlimited meetings via its simple web-based interface until 8 January 2021. You're limited to 50 meeting participants instead of 100, but that should be plenty for most people.
Check out more options in our guide to the best online video conferencing services.