6 Questions to Ask About Conference-Call Solutions

Updated: April 30, 2009

No single approach to conference calling is right for every company — or even the majority of them. There are simply too many variables in terms of both requirements and solutions. One big decision that your business will definitely have to make, though, is choosing between a commercial service or an on-premise deployment. There are myriad variations to both approaches; here are some questions that you can ask yourself to help you make a decision.

1. How often does your company hold conference calls? If the answer to this question is "not often," the solution is a no-brainer: Go with a commercial service. Your company won't spend a bunch of money buying a solution that it seldom uses, and quality will be guaranteed. All you have to do is make the reservation and pay the bill.

2. Do calls occur regularly or irregularly? If your company holds conference calls on a regular basis, it makes sense to at least consider implementing an in-house system. A consistent conference-call schedule makes it easier to compare the cost of purchasing a system with that of paying for a service. And purchasing a solution might save the business considerable money over the long term. But if conference calls come clustered at certain times of the year, a commercial service will probably be a better option; you don't want the brand-new conferencing package to gather dust for most of the year.

3. How many participants do conference calls typically involve? If just a few people are usually in on calls, your existing phone system might be able to accommodate them. Some IP PBX es even come with built-in conference bridges that can handle anywhere from a handful or people to hundreds of participants. If your business uses a hosted VoIP service, the provider might have significant capabilities as well. And if your company's conference calls are generally large, spending money for an add-on system from either your IP PBX vendor or a third-party supplier could be a more cost-effective approach in the long run compared to using a commercial service. However, note that when call participants are limited, outside services can be cheap or free. FreeConferenceCall.com , for example, allows calls with up to 96 participants for up to six hours at no cost. But for global marketing or financial calls with hundreds or thousands of participants, definitely go with a commercial service.

4. Does the number of call participants vary greatly? As with predictable schedules, having predictable numbers of participants favors an in-house solution. But if the number of callers varies hugely, buying a system could stick your company with a capacity that it doesn't fully use most of the time.

5. How important is sound quality, reliability and the ability to ramp rapidly? When such factors are crucial, a commercial service is the only solution. You don't want to risk having the conference call crash when 1,000 investors dial in within five minutes of each other.

6. How much control and flexibility does your company need? Being able to manage the conference call through a sophisticated graphical interface can make a big difference. Such a solution may let you drag and drop participants into or out of the conference with your mouse or allow you to mute individual (or all) callers with a click or two. Such capabilities are more likely to be available in on-premise or hybrid premise/hosted solutions. Commercial services, by contrast, may give you little more than a phone number, a conference ID and instructions for seeking assistance.

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