Conference call

A conference call is a telephone meeting. Participants dial in using a conference bridge number, which connects them to a common virtual meeting room that can be joined by people almost anywhere in the world. The meeting organizer may also call participants individually to add them to the conference line, a practice known as ad hoc conferencing.

In addition to a common dial-in number (usually provided via email or calendar invite), the conference call organizer may also supply a bridge URL. This link can connect callers to web conferencing services, through which they may use computer audio and possibly access other types of media and collaboration tools, including screen shares, video chats, and instant messaging platforms.

Conference calls have always been important for connecting employees with each other, and for helping a company reach external parties, such as its customers and business partners. However, their importance has greatly increased as more organizations have come to rely on telecommuters and mobile employees, while also expanding their geographical presence through branch offices. In addition, traditional conference calls are evolving to encompass more modern features, such as video conferencing, screen sharing, digital whiteboarding, and more.

A conference call is a telephone call in which the calling party can speak to several call participants at the same time. A conference call is usually done with a telephone, although it can also be done with the help of IP telephone service providers or with similar call applications. Conference calls can be either simply audio or both audio and video.

Techopedia explains Conference Call

A conference call can be viewed as a normal telephone call, but with more than one recipient. There are two ways in which an audio conference call can be initiated. First, the calling party could call participants and add other participants during the live audio call. Second, participants can dial into a telephone number which would connect to a specialized telephone system known as a conference bridge and conference themselves. Conference calls can also be used along with web conferences.

There are many benefits associated with conference calls. The biggest advantage is the elimination of face-to-face meetings. It can be used for meeting remote parties, both internally or externally to the organization. Cost saving is accomplished by having less travel time, and therefore more time-saving. Organizational or business conference calls are always focused on a planned agenda and tend to be more productive in nature. It also enables brainstorming and aids in problem-solving. It is more effective than emails and faxes. Another benefit associated with conference calls is in the reduction of telecommunication expenses. Conference calls when used in conjunction with web conferences, allow presenters to give better explanations and details of the documents or presentations shared with participants simultaneously viewing the documents or presentations shared. Conference calls can be conveniently done at any time and anywhere.

conference call is a telephone call in which someone talks to several people at the same time. The conference call may be designed to allow the called party to participate during the call or set up so that the called party merely listens to the call and cannot speak. It is sometimes called ATC (audio teleconference).

Conference calls can be designed so that the calling party calls the other participants and adds them to the call; however, participants are usually able to call into the conference call themselves by dialling a telephone number that connects to a “conference bridge,” which is a specialized type of equipment that links telephone lines.

Companies commonly use a specialized service provider who maintains the conference bridge, or who provides the phone numbers and PIN codes that participants dial to access the meeting or conference call. These service providers can often dial-out to participants, connecting them to call and introducing them to the parties who are on the line. The operators can also take additional information such as question and answer details and also enable and disable advanced conferencing features such as muting lines, muting participants and enabling a recording feature. An operator can often be summoned to conference calls hosted by a service provider using a combination of keys on a user’s (sometimes only the moderator’s) telephone keypad. The most common recall function is *0. (asterisk and the zero/operator key)

The more limited three-way calling is available (usually at an extra charge) on home or office phone lines. For a three-way call, the first called party is dialled. Then the hook flash button (or recall button) is pressed and the other called party’s phone number is dialled. While it is ringing, flash/recall is pressed again to connect the three people together. This option allows callers to add a second outgoing call to an already connected call.

Business 

Businesses use conference calls daily to meet with remote parties, both internally and outside of their company. Common applications are client meetings or sales presentations, project meetings and updates, regular team meetings, training classes and communication with employees who work in different locations. Conference calling is viewed as a primary means of cutting travel costs and allowing workers to be more productive by not having to go out of the office for meetings.

Conference calls are used by nearly all United States public corporations to report their quarterly results. These calls usually allow for questions from stock analysts and are called earnings calls. A standard conference call begins with a disclaimer stating that anything said during the duration of the call may be a forward-looking statement and that results may vary significantly. The CEO, CFO, or investor relations officer then will read the company’s quarterly report. Lastly, the call is open to questions from analysts.

Conference calls are increasingly used in conjunction with web conferences, where presentations or documents are shared via the internet. This allows people on the call to view content such as corporate reports, sales figures and company data presented by one of the participants. The main benefit is that the presenter of the document can give clear explanations about details within the document, while others simultaneously view the presentation. Care should be taken not to mix video and audio sources on the same network since the video feed can cause interruptions in sound quality.

It is important to pay attention to conference call etiquette when participating; for example, one should refrain from shouting and multitasking in certain cases. Care should also be taken to schedule a call at a convenient time.

Business conference calls are usually hosted or operator-assisted, with a variety of features.

Conference calls are also beginning to cross over into the world of podcasting and social networking, which in turn fosters new kinds of interaction patterns. Live streaming or broadcasting of conference calls allows larger audience access to the call without dialling into a bridge. In addition, organizers of conference calls can publish a dial-in number alongside the audio stream, creating the potential for audience members to dial in and interact.

The UK government has changed flexible working rights since 2014 so that employees who have been working full-time for a company or organisation can lawfully request flexible working. In recent years, there have been a number of different types of flexible working options as a result of conference calling technology enabling employees to work remotely.

Flat-rate conferencing 

Flat-rate conferencing services are being offered which give unlimited access to a conference bridge at a fixed monthly cost. Because telecommunication carriers offer free long-distance bundled with local service, this alternative is gaining widespread popularity for budget-conscious businesses and non-profits.

In the UK, there are conference services offered on a pay-as-you-go basis where the cost of the phone calls (using 0843/0844, or 0871/0872 non-geographic revenue sharing numbers) from each of the participants covers the cost of the conference service. With this service type, there is no monthly charge and usually no contracts to sign.

Prepaid conference calls

Prepaid conference call services allow businesses and individuals to purchase conferencing services online, and conduct conference calls on a pay-as-you-go basis. Typically, a conference call PIN and its associated calling instructions are displayed immediately online after being purchased and/or sent via email. Generally, prepaid conference call services are used with a landline telephone, mobile phone, or computer, and there is no need to buy additional expensive telecommunications hardware or add/switch long-distance service. Some services allow one to start or join a conference call from virtually any country worldwide—with appropriate telephone access.

Large telecommunications providers such as AT&T, Embarq (formerly Sprint), Verizon and other large to medium conferencing service providers maintain a dominant position in the conferencing niche; servicing many of the world’s biggest brands. However, the Internet and improved global VoIP networks have helped to significantly reduce the barrier to entry into this niche.

Free conference calling

Free conferencing is different from traditional conference calling in that it has no organizer fees, no human operator, and allows for multiple people to connect at no cost other than that of any other phone call (local or toll). Companies that provide free conference call services are usually compensated through a revenue-sharing arrangement with the local phone company, sharing the termination charge for incoming calls to a phone carrier.

In the case of free conference calling, the conferencing company strikes an agreement with the local phone company that hosts the conferencing bridge (equipment connecting lines) to receive a share of the terminating access charge received for connecting the call. At large carriers such as AT&T and Verizon, they keep these access charges for their own conferencing services in addition to charging the customer for the conference service. With free conference calling, as mentioned above, there are no organizer fees so these services do not double-dip: the consumer pays for a regular call with the same three components – origination, transport, and termination – of any call. In other words, the call costs the same as any other call under the customer’s calling plan, but the conferencing is included for free to the host and participants of the conference call.

In November 2011, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) published a 732-page Order on InterCarrier Compensation (ICC), including rules governing revenue sharing. Citing Section 251(b)(5) of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the FCC mandated that terminating access rates for all calls (not just conference calls) be levelled in 2012 and 2013, then reduced in three increments over the subsequent three years until they reached $0 in 2017. These mostly sub-1 cent charges are replaced with an access recovery charge (ARC) that is added onto every customer’s bill by their phone carriers. In other words, every phone company will get to keep the terminating access charges they had to pay out to connect each call while charging consumers more whether they make calls or not. This order has been challenged at the Federal Appeals Court by several parties.

As for revenue sharing, the order adds a measure for high volume call traffic which triggers an immediate terminating access charge reduction to the lowest rate of any carrier in that state.

In the United Kingdom, the 0870 prefixes were originally used by UK-based free conference calling providers in order to receive a rebate from every call from a telephone company that owns the number. However, in April 2009 Ofcom, the independent regulator and competition authority for the UK communications industries, announced that the rebate that is payable to the telecom’s supplier when an 0870 number is used would be removed. Systems were soon moved to 0844 and 0871 prefixes in order to retain the revenue-sharing arrangement, this means that whilst you wouldn’t pay the conference call provider directly, you would dial an expensive premium-rate number to access your conference call.

Recently in the UK, a very small number of conference call providers have begun to use 03 numbers, which are included in bundled minutes under Ofcom regulations. This has provided the option to hold conference calls without any costs whatsoever, as calls are included in the minute bundles provided by most UK network operators. There is a general trend for companies in the UK to more than 03 numbers for inbound services because these numbers are more palatable to the caller.

A distinct difference between the sound quality of paid and free conference calls has been noted by customers who have claimed to hear background noises when using the free conferencing services, which rarely happens on paid conference calling services. 

Premium conferencing 

Here participants dial in on a premium-rate number such as a toll-free number in the US. The conference is typically hosted by the party that perceives value in the call in order to justify the cost: this could be a business owner, a non-profit board member, an educator, a lawyer, or an expert in any given field. That person then usually pays for the cost of the call. Premium conferencing can also be used for charitable fundraisers.

Premium conferencing feature sets

  • Reservationless or operator-assisted conferencing
  • Host PINs
  • Name announce
  • Roll-call (unique and superior)
  • Moderator/participant codes
  • Live web-based call management with mute/unmute, drop one/all, and dial out
  • Recording with .wav file access through an online account
  • High-quality on-demand transcriptions (with the 4-hour turnaround on request)
  • Customizable, “branded” greetings(unique)
  • Broadcast mode
  • Q&A facilitation
  • Polling and polling reports
  • Sub-conferencing
  • Dial-out with or without the requested response
  • Web-based screen-sharing options
  • 24/7 availability

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