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March 15, 2010

New Wave Conferencing: So Many Choices!

By Doug Mohney, Contributing Editor


When it comes to audio conferencing, a lot of businesses have stuck with what they know: paying anywhere from 8 to 10 cents a minute per participant, using a dedicated dial-in number, narrowband voice calls, and maybe call recording thrown in as an additional bone. Alternatively, monthly flat-rate dialing plans provide an option for $50 to $60 a month with a plan allowing x-number of participants able to do unlimited conference calling.
 
Really exciting, eh?
 
Fortunately, there are many IP-based solutions available today that improve the experience and add features above and beyond "vanilla" voice calling - with lower cost to boot. You can choose from free services such as freeconferencecall.com, better voice quality using HD voice services in combination with G.722 phones or Skype (News - Alert), MP3 call recording, and real-time transcription.
 
Three service companies best represent the new wave of conferencing -- let's not call it Conferencing 2.0, because that numbering cliche' has been abused -- Calliflower, TurboBridge, and ZipDX. If you're inclined to run your own conferencing solution in-house, you can add Wyde Voice (News - Alert) to the list.
 
Calliflower provides a mix of free and flat-rate features, including using Skype for audio, calendar integration, conference reminders via email or SMS text messaging, interactive IM chat, photo ID for call participants, and document sharing. To get unlimited calling with unlimited participants and world-wide call-in numbers costs $50 a month. 
 
TurboBridge has gone for simplicity, sticking to a game plan that means relying on SIP-based conferencing, aggressive pricing, and HD voice with proprietary tweaks to insure the best sound quality. The no-frills+best voice possible approach has won them fast friends among service providers and IP handset manufacturers. Aastra (News - Alert) (www.aastrausa.com) has teamed with TurboBridge to offer a 60 day free trial of its conferencing services to Aastra customers and resellers. Flat-rate unlimited plans for a single conference bridge cost as little as $49.95 per year with unlimited free usage for dial-in access, web client, Skype, or SIP.
 
ZipDX also features HD voice and automated call scheduling features, but also includes a WebSharing feature and the integration of transcription tools. The automated SCRIBBLE tool delivers an 80 percent accurate transcription at a cost of $9.90 per hour (or $0.165 per minute), with a time lag between spoke word and transcription of about 30 seconds; ZipDX recommends using a SCRIBBLE document as an index into a conference recording, allowing users to find specific points in the conference and then clicking on the link to listen the original audio. For people with more money and seeking better accuracy, the SCRIBE service uses a team of professional transcriptionists. Accuracy with SCRIBE is around 95 percent and the service costs $1.65 per minute or $99 per hour.
 
If owning your own conference bridge is what your company needs, Wyde Voice provides both software-only and appliance-based options. Company founder Dave Erickson was doing HD conferencing before HD was cool and the company provides a heavy duty web services API for integrating a conferencing bridge into just about any application you might dream up. Wyde's software product supports up to 100 concurrent ports of real-time HD audio conferencing while the company's carrier-class solution will support up to 10,000 users with N+N redundancy available.
 
If you are looking for conference services, be aware to fully compare "apples to apples" with pricing and features, since it can get quite complicated when considering the maximum permissible number of participants, per-minute charges for accessing a conference bridge, and additional features (free and value-add/value-pay) available.

Doug Mohney is a contributing editor for TMCnet and a 20-year veteran of the ICT space. To read more of his articles, please visit columnist page.

Edited by Michael Dinan



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