Zoom Adds Virtual Breakout Rooms to Video Conference Service

In video training or education environments, meeting hosts can enable attendees to participate in smaller groups.

video collaboration

Zoom Video Communications is bolstering its video conferencing service by enabling meeting hosts to create spaces where smaller groups within those meetings can collaborate.

The company, which offers cloud-based and hybrid video collaboration services, on Dec. 1 unveiled the new Video Breakout Rooms feature that will be available to all users of its technology, including those with free accounts.

The new capability is particularly aimed at training and education scenarios, where trainers or teachers hosting a video conference can enable students or employees to meet in smaller teams. According to Zoom officials, the education space is a strong market for the company, with more than 80 percent of the top 200 universities in the United States using the vendor's technology.

The Video Breakout Rooms allow "educators to divide their classrooms into smaller groups, organizational leaders to break up teams for group work and collaboration, and corporations to facilitate employee training and team building activities," Priscilla Barolo, marketing manager at Zoom, wrote in a post on the company blog.

Zoom founder and CEO Eric Yuan said in a statement that the company's "customers, particularly those in the education and training sectors, have been asking for Video Breakout Rooms … so they can easily collaborate in groups small and large."

The video conferencing market, driven by an increasingly mobile workforce, the growth in smartphones and tablets, and the rise of cloud computing, continues to shift away from large, expensive conference room systems and toward cloud- and software-based offerings. The trend has helped give rise to vendors such as Zoom, Vidyo and Blue Jeans Network while pushing established players like Cisco Systems, Polycom and Lifesize Communications to broaden their portfolios. Customers also are demanding solutions that can be used in smaller groups, such as what are called "huddle rooms" and smaller conference areas.

In Zoom's case, the company offers an all-in-one service that can be used by smaller companies as well as larger enterprises.

"Zoom is all about simplicity, versatility, and value," Yuan said in an email interview with eWEEK last month. "In terms of simplicity, our service is easy to try, easy to use, and easy to buy. … As for versatility, our comprehensive, all-in-one service spans SMB to enterprise requirements as well as education and healthcare applications."

The service works across desktop PCs, mobile devices and conference rooms, and supports everything from one-on-one conferences to broadcasts with up to 3,000 participants, the CEO wrote. The company offers a free service as well as a scalable rate for its paid service. In October, Zoom announced that it had doubled the number of people who can participate in a video conference from 25 to 50.

With the Video Breakout Rooms, Zoom is giving customers another option for collaboration. It enables employees or students participating in a session to work in smaller teams. Through the technology, group members can alert the host if they need help, and the host can drop in on any of the breakout sessions.

While in the breakout rooms, participants can use such features as video, audio, chat and whiteboards, and can share screens, according to company officials. The main meeting can hold up to 200 attendees, and the host can either automatically or manually divide participants into up to 50 breakout sessions.