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A phone made specifically for conference calls.


A conference call is a telephone call in which the calling party wishes to have more than one called party listen in to the audio portion of the call. The conference calls may be designed to allow the called party to participate during the call, or the call may be set up so that the called party merely listens into the call and cannot speak. It is often referred to as an ATC (Audio Tele-Conference).

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 dialing into a special telephone number that connects to a "conference bridge" (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.

Three-way calling is available (usually at an extra charge) for many customers on their home or office phone line. To three-way call, the first person one wishes to talk to is dialed. Then the Hook flash button (known as the recall button in the UK and elsewhere) is pressed and the other person's phone number is dialed. 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.

Usage

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 to 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-office for meetings.

Conference calls are used by nearly all United Statesmarker 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 in 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 opened for 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.

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 a larger audience access to the call without dialing in to a bridge. In addition, organizers of conference calls can publish a dial-in number alongside the audio stream, creating potential for audience members to dial in if and when they wish to interact.

Party line

Conference calls can also be used for entertainment or social purposes, such as the party line or a group call. People call in to a specified telephone number, and are connected to conversations with other callers. This serves as a way to talk to and perhaps, subsequently, meet new people. However, conference calls are most commonly used by businesses.

Flat Rate Conferencing

Flat rate services are now being offered which enable conference call users to have 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 0844, 0870 or 0871 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 you 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 of entry into this niche.

Free conference calling

Free conferencing is different from traditional conference calling where the organizer of the conference call pays either a flat rate fee or per minute charge or a mixture of both. It has no organizer fees and allows for multiple people to meet for the price of their long distance connections. Companies that provide free conference call services are usually compensated through traffic pumping arrangements, and consequently are subject to call blocking by some carriers. Calls to these seemingly free conference services and other reverse billing rate centers can be 20 times more expensive than a ‘normal’ call.

Premium conferencing

Here participants dial in on a premium-rate number typically beginning with the prefix ‘09’, the conference being hosted by anyone that adds value to the call in order to justify the premium rate element: this could be a celebrity, a sports personality, astrologer, lawyer, or expert in any given field. That person then receives the majority of the accrued revenue. Premium conferencing can also be used for charitable fundraisers.

Common causes of poor conference calls

There are three common causes of poor quality conference calls:

  • People simply not showing up.
  • Lack of familiarity with behaviour and protocol.
  • Technology.


Each of these causes requires a different kind of corrective action. However, there is usually one primary root cause; for example, people may not be showing up because the technology does not work, or the technology may not work because people are not familiar with it.

Technology problems tend to fall into two kinds: lack of bandwidth and poor equipment. Again, it is worth checking which of these apply in the case of technology problems.

Conferencing in IMS

The 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) defined a technical specification (TS 24.147) for conferencing within the IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) based on the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP), SIP Events, the Session Description Protocol (SDP) and the Binary Floor Control Protocol (BFCP, aka RFC4582).

References

http://www.3gpp.org/ftp/specs/html-info/24147.htm

See also




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