The Financial Express
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Zoom beats peers as people retreat to living rooms

| Updated: August 15, 2020 16:52:30

Zoom beats peers as people retreat to living rooms

Dewan Ali Ahmed, a sexagenarian businessman, starts his workday through an online meeting platform named Zoom during the ongoing pandemic situation.

In April, frustration gripped him as many employees of his business entity were in favour of staying home.

Finally, Mr Ahmed, an importer-wholesaler, started virtual activity as his tech-savvy friend, Mr Zaman, suggested him for using cloud based services to keep his firm functional.

The once tech-shy Mr Ahmed has now grasped Zoom, a leading teleconferencing app, making it a part and parcel of his business.

"I now fully depend on Zoom for meeting purposes with staff members and dealers."

Mr Ahmed told the FE that he can call meetings beyond office hours even staying in bed.

Zoom has now emerged a buzzword not only to Mr Ahmed, but also to thousands of people in Bangladesh.

The global scenario under the quarantine-like situation is more or less the same, according to some IT (information technology) experts in Bangladesh.

The use of Zoom is not limited to meetings only, it is also popular with teaching, trading, banking, patient caring, seminar and symposium here.

Government offices in Bangladesh also use the app for meeting purposes. They also use sundry other platforms, some senior officials told The Financial Express (FE).

Following its wide-ranging usage here, the FE contacted the Zoom Video Communication Inc, the California-based tech company listed with the Nasdaq in 2019.

The daily sought statistics relating to downloads and subsequent uses of the app in Bangladesh.

After a week, the tech firm responded, saying that it does not compile any country-specific data.

But it said there was rapid growth globally after coronavirus lockdown, boosting its share prices to an all-time high.

Even the company witnessed secular growth in stock prices that closed on August 07 at $268.8. Its market cap has now stood at $75.7 billion.

The Zoom quarterly published in June saw a jump to $328.2 million, up by 169 per cent year on year.

As of the end of last December, the maximum number of daily meeting participants, both free and paid, on Zoom was approximately 10 million.

Zoom reached more than 200 million daily meeting participants this March, according to the email sent from Zoom to the FE.

"Usage of Zoom has ballooned overnight - far surpassing what we expected when we first announced our desire to help in late February," it reads.

"As of April this year, we reached more than 300-million daily meeting participants, both free and paid. i.e., a 50-per cent increase this month, from March to April."

These are global statistics that include Bangladesh.

Meanwhile, local people familiar with the technology said Zoom's use here surged sharply after March 26 when the government announced a general holiday.

"Zoom is snowballing fast day by day from urban to rural areas," Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services (BASIS) president Syed Almas Kabir told the FE.

According to the IT trade promotion body, there are several local and international alternatives to Zoom, but those are not that much known to all.

Even users want to call it a part of life now.

"We host two meetings on Zoom-at the start and at the end of working hours daily," said Nur Hossain, a mid-level official of a mobile financial service in Dhaka.

His company earlier used the app occasionally, but it now pays $80 per month for availing extra features like long meetings without interruption and more than 500 participants.

These features are not available on free version.

Around a dozen similar apps are also being used in Bangladesh and other parts of the world. But Zoom's technological brinkmanship with them remains unending.

As many as 1,000 participants can join with the Zoom app through paid plans.

Google Meet can add up to 250. The time restriction is free 40 minutes for Zoom, but Indian Jiomeet has 24-hour time feature.

Zoom offers end-to-end encryption for both free and paid plans. Priyo Meet and Unimeet, the two local ventures, are on the race also.

Mr Kabir, who is also the CEO at MetroNet Bangladesh, said different agencies concerned and individuals should prefer home-grown software to the foreign ones.

There is no accountability or transparency in using foreign meeting apps as they do not host their data servers in Bangladesh.

"If local software is used, the authorities concerned can at least make a developer accountable for issues like revenue, data privacy and user security," he said.

"You cannot make the foreign companies accountable," Mr Kabir went on to say.

Prof Dr M Rokonuzzaman of electrical and computer engineering at a private university said it appears that Covid-triggered Zoom success has presented many lessons for people from all walks of life.

"For minimisation of cross-infection due to the virus, essential services starting from education to office meetings over Zoom are basically accelerating the long-term transformation of our society," he told the FE.

But data security remains a concern. Zoom is globally criticised for data security, although it claims it has undertaken many measures to this effect.

"If Zoom-like global platform grows as a major communication means, how should we ensure data privacy and security?" Mr Rokonuzzaman questioned.

Zakaria Swapan, a local IT expert, said privacy and data security is key to using any cross-border platform.

"Data sharing, data communication and information sharing are sensitive since the key government people also use such technological solutions," he added.

Unlike in Bangladesh, Zoom has opened its office in India and some other countries and installed servers to comply with the privacy policy.

"It's essential to ensure data privacy and security by regulating such provider to establish their infrastructure with a sovereign boundary," said Mr Swapan who leads web-based firm Priyo Limited.

jasimhaaroon@yahoo.com and saif.febd@gmail.com

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