In this age of telecommuting, virtual offices, and reduced travel budgets, web conferencing has become an increasingly more attractive way of holding meetings. The low cost of Internet connections and webcams, and the availability of SaaS conferencing services, makes web conferencing easy and affordable.

Two of the leading web conferencing services are LotusLive Meetings and WebEx, available from industry heavyweights IBM and Cisco, respectively, which rank #1 and #3 in our ratings. These offerings are more full-featured and heavily supported than the more basic, and free, offerings from, which is ranked #2.

Both of LotusLive and WebEx offer a raft of basic features and options, such as application sharing, document sharing, recording, polling, and mobile access. Each can host a web conference for a few people or up to thousands of participants. Both offer excellent support, including 24×7 telephone support.

Initial connectivity for web-based conferencing is easier with WebEx, which only requires that each participant has a browser. LotusLive requires downloading and installing a browser plug-in, and each remote user must install the plug-in to connect to a conference.

However, beyond initial connectivity, LotusLive is the easier product to use and is less expensive. Our reviewer found the variety of features offered by LotusLive Meetings to be best in class compared to others reviewed, as well as among the easiest to use, and at a lower price point.

WebEx, on the other hand, was found to be a bit more complex and pricey. As our reviewer advised, WebEx is best for users with at least moderate levels of web conferencing experience, noting that “many users recommend that someone other than the moderator should actually run the presentation technically.”

LotusLive Meetings’ pricing is not only lower than WebEx’s, but also easier to find. Unlike WebEx, LotusLive Meetings’ pricing is published on its site. The Standard option is $6.00 per user per month for web conferences for up to 200 attendees with anyone outside the company. Web conferences within the company require that each internal participant have a subscription to the service. An unlimited option is $39 per user per month for unlimited web conferences for up to 15 attendees with anyone, anywhere. For mobile capabilities, users must pay a few additional dollars per user per month. A $5 per user plan is available for users that have the Lotus Collaboration suite. LotusLive offers a 60-day free trial, but an annual contract is required.

Cisco does not publish WebEx pricing online, rather steers you to a partner or sales representative. Published pricing for up to 25 participants is quoted as low as $49 per month, but it can vary. One partner’s published pricing currently is $69 per month per meeting organizer for a monthly plan and $59 per month per meeting organizer for a yearly plan for up to 25 participants.

Cisco recently introduced a new offering for SMBs call WebEx 8, which provides unlimited web conferencing for up to eight people for $19 per month.

WebEx Event Center is a popular option for companies that hold larger meetings and can accommodate up to 3,000 participants. Cisco reportedly lowered the pricing of WebEx Event Center last year, with rates quoted by a consultant starting at $99 per month, or $79 per month for a year of prepaid service, for a hosted conference in an Event Center room with up to 100 people.  A 500-attendee maximum was quoted at $399 or $319 per month (monthly or yearly) and a 1,000-attendee maximum capacity at $499 or $399, monthly or yearly.

Bottom Line: While both LotusLive Meetings and WebEx provide full-featured web conferencing services, WebEx is generally the more pricey and complex service. Since each vendor offers a free trial, you can try them both and decide which meets your requirements and budget.