What is Conference Bridge Calling and How to Use it?

The increasing use of VoIP systems and the current anti-Covid measures have brought video-conferencing to everyone’s attention. Most VoIP systems, both local and hosted support it, and there are specialised video-conferencing software applications that deliver sophisticated solutions, particularly for the larger multi-site and multi-country organisations.

However, conferencing does not always need video, and on occasion, video is not possible because of technical limitations. Indeed, phone conferencing solutions were available before video conferencing became common and economically and technically feasible.

Call conferencing is made possible by a bit of technology called a conference bridge, which creates a virtual conference room. Participants then dial into the conference room using their phone, landline or cellular. The call can be either voice-only or voice plus video. Some offer screen sharing and other collaboration options. This approach is adopted by both analogue and VoIP systems.

At the outset, non-VoIP conferences were limited to small numbers of participants, usually three. Most conference systems allowing lots of participants are an add-on to the basic phone system and are usually very expensive.

The benefits of call conferencing are well established, for instance,  communications cost reductions and the time benefit of not needing to pull together teams from remote locations to a single site. One conference can recover the costs of implementation by removing the need for an on-site meeting. Conferencing becomes a key enabler of collaborative teamwork in distributed or virtual teams. One conference

Recognising this, a new breed of service provider offers free conference call services, and people like Google, through Google Hangouts, provide conference systems integrated with their Office applications.

Some are free but limit the number of participants or number of conferences. Some are free to personal or academic users, but chargeable for commercial users.  They may also operate an extended free trial, then require sign-up and payment.   Microsoft Zoom is one of these.

The current move to remote working as a response to the lockdown has markedly increased the use of call conferencing systems.  The free route is often the best overall solution for small businesses that use conference calling infrequently.

How To Use It

  • Choosing the Solution

    Choosing the Solution

    • Look at what you currently have.  If you are a Google shop, then using Hangouts is perhaps the place to start. Microsoft Office users could consider Zoom because of it’s integration with Office, particularly Contacts.   Messenger, Skype and Netmeeting might also be possible solutions. But, please work out what you need before you choose a solution.

    • Carry out a requirements review. The review should cover both local and remote sites, and if you intend to conference with your road-warriors, can you support mobile smart and perhaps non-smart devices.

  • Quantify how you would use it. Both technically and operationally

    Quantify how you would use it

    There are some technical and operational procedures to be considered:

    1. Booking and Inviting.  Attendees will need to know the number to dial and any joining credentials.  This can be done by an administrator, or by the meeting organiser using email or the conference software itself.  Some systems will only allow one virtual conference room at a time, so in that case centralised booking is essential.

    2. Setting up the meeting.  From time to time, random gremlins in the phone system, locally or externally will need to be resolved, usually at short notice. How to contact Technical Support and having it immediately available should be part of the organisation package.

  • Security

    Security

    How secure do your calls need to be, both in content and vetting of participants? How well do potential solutions fit with your existing security environment? There was a flurry of comment in the media recently about apparent security flaws in Zoom.

  • Selection and Implementation

    Selection and Implementation

    Having decided what you need, you now need to look at how you would implement it and use it operationally. One big question is whether you can implement it inhouse on your existing equipment, or whether you need to outsource it.

Some Key Features

Some Key Features

  • It is a certainty that you will want to schedule meetings sometime ahead and let the participants know.   You will probably also need to host meetings at very short notice.

  • To be sure, invitations can be scheduled and invitations sent out using office calendars and e-mail. That, however, means a second email to send out the meeting credentials. So much easier if it can be done one-time from the conference application itself.  Even better if the conferencing systems integrate with contact lists in Outlook or Google.

  • For the larger organisation, you may need to support multiple conference rooms simultaneously.

  • Ease of use is an important consideration. You do not want to hire someone or dedicate an IT support person just to organise meetings.

  • Are call limits, call controls and call recordings Important? Do you need mobile device support? Do you need International call support?

Conference Bridging is an essential component of call conferencing, and as such needs careful consideration as part of the overall call conferencing package.