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I need to re-evaluate our phone conferencing vendor / package. Not having managed this particular service in the past, would anybody care to share what kind of companies/offerings are out there that you've encountered?

Throwing out some points of interest to get started, feel free to add/change/disregard...

  • Do you host your own phone conferencing solution?
    • Number of users
    • Platform
  • Do you outsource?
    • Vendor
    • Terms (not rates, I realize these vary, but are charges by the minute, bundled, per account, etc.)
    • Limitations, features

(I've intentionally kept this separate from video conferencing)

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Hi, I looked at your profile and couldn't see a country/continent - it might help to know where you are as in general telephony options vary around the world and it might help us to respond better to your question. –  Chopper3 May 12 '09 at 18:19
    
Makes sense to me! –  Kara Marfia May 13 '09 at 13:03

6 Answers 6

We're using AccuConference and they have been great - our bills are half what they used to be (in large part due to their auto-disconnect if after 15 minutes if there is only one party on the line). We do 3,000+ minutes/month & are on a volume plan with a good rate - they bill per minute/per caller. Probably haven't had more than 10-15 parties on a call, so I don't know their limit.

The coolest thing for me has been the ability to generate as many conference codes as needed - I created one for each member of the sales staff - which eliminated all of the "Using conference line between 3:00 and 4:00" emails in addition to giving some accounting of who is using it. There are other features like conference recording which can be useful. It looks like they may be rolling out a web/video conferencing solution but I haven't gotten there yet.

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Thank you! I'll check them out. I love having options. –  Kara Marfia Dec 17 '09 at 15:25

Hosting internally
Pros: More control over costs and technology
Cons: Increased cost for line usage to the PSTN.

Outsourcing:
Pros: Can Scale on demand, less management, more features (ie transcription)
Cons: Pay per swallow.

I've used:

Freeconference.com if all you need is audio. Max size 150!

Hey Otto has a certain cool factor to it, but it's $.09 per minute.

gotomeeting.com audio quality is shotty sometimes, but nice if you have a presentation.

Voted +1 for Asterisk. Huge fan of our Switchvox.

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I shied away from freeconference when it looked like you can end up waiting if you try to start a conference at a busy time? –  Kara Marfia Jun 29 '09 at 13:25

If you're considering rolling your own, the best open source telephony engine is Asterisk.

Choose an ITSP with a good reputation and attractive rates, and configure as many conferences as you like with no telco hassles. Many ITSPs offer declining-balance options, so you truly only pay for what you use, and typical rates are about 1/3 of what you're paying now.

For those that like a safety net, Digium (the creator and sponsor of Asterisk) offers subscriptions that include professional, round-the-clock tech support.

Don't want to mess with Asterisk directly? Check out Switchvox, Digium's business-ready PBX based on Asterisk. Its web interface makes administering a PBX simple. And it does conferencing, too.

As a long-time Asterisk user and Digium employee, I'm a bit biased. Doesn't mean I'm wrong -- try it and see.

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Telephony is black magic to many in our world! And it is getting worse rather than better as VoIP and SIP start to merge voice onto our networks.

The biggest issue in rolling your own phone conferencing is getting sufficient connectivity to the system. A 16 user conference call requires 16 phone lines (or 16 channels on a PRI or equivalent). Those costs add up fast for a small business, and there are powerful economies of scale available. I would be surprised if a small company without lots of phone connectivity could do it cost effectively.

Assuming you have sufficient telephone connections, there are lots of options available for doing your own conferencing. Most phone systems have conference hosting options, some are expensive and some are cheap. For instance, NBX Software has an interesting solution that uses SIP/VoIP and runs on Windows; with it and a telephone gateway you are going!

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This confirms my thinking re: rolling your own. I suspect all I'll need to prove along these lines is why it'll cost too much to be worthwhile. Now to find some reputable service providers to compare against our current partner. –  Kara Marfia May 29 '09 at 19:31
    
The monthly minutes is the key number, along with the cost of a PRI in your neighborhood and the cost of the conference bridge. A complete WAG is that $1000/month on conferences smaller than 20 people is the LEAST that could justify rolling your own. –  tomjedrz May 29 '09 at 21:30

We're currently using a provider with a $.06/min US rate on domestic conference calls with a fairly large limit on call-ins (150, I believe) - international @ .08/min. It seems like a reasonable rate to me, and I can't find anything lower outside of free services (at which point you give up guaranteed scheduling - not something I would think we should use with customers or prospects).

However, there are some who think I should be able to find something cheaper/better. Looks like there's not a whole lot of interest or new information in this area?

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We once did it ourselves with Asterisk. We're small, so eventually we decided to go with Trixbox. They have a very sucky billing department, but their support is good (sometimes very slow do) and it just works.

As far as terms go, you pay for the licenses and support, since it's a whole PBX, not just a conferencing solution.

You can use either land lines or a VoIP account, so as far as cost goes it depends on that. They have a very nifty feature where if two companies have Trixbox installed, calls between them get routed over the Internet, and they're completely free (bandwidth issues aside).

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