(Bloomberg) -- Google wants people using its video chat software so badly, the company is now giving it away.
Starting Wednesday, Google Meet, the Alphabet Inc. company’s teleconferencing app, will be available at no cost. Currently Meet is part of Google’s paid workplace software suite. People can use the service for calls with as many as 100 participants. Google said it will cap free calls at 60 minutes, but won’t begin enforcing that time limit until the end of September.
The free offer is permanent, according to Smita Hashim, director of product for Google Meet. “It’s going to last going forward, just like Gmail,” she said. “Video conferencing has pretty much become an essential service.”
Indeed, video calls are exploding globally as work and personal interactions move online during stay-at-home ordinances. Google’s offering has grown -- the company said Tuesday that more than 100 million people a day use Meet now. But it has ceded ground to rivals like Zoom Video Communications Inc., which reported 300 million daily participants last week. Zoom shares fell 7.7 percent Wednesday morning in New York. Facebook Inc. also recently released a free video chat service.
Google has tried to get a foothold in messaging many times, and mostly failed, despite its dominance in email and mobile phone software. To date, Google has packaged Meet with its G Suite service, which charges companies from $6 to $25 per user. For the first quarter, Google reported $2.78 billion in cloud-computing revenue, but it doesn’t disclose G Suite sales.
The video conferencing apps from Zoom and Google have been criticized for lax privacy and security measures, particularity in schools. Hashim said Meet is “very secure, very reliable and very easy to use,” and will continue to add security features.
To use the free service, the company requires that people have a Google account.