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8/4/2006
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Melanie Turek
Melanie Turek
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How to Save Thousands on Audio Conference Calling

It should come as no surprise that one of the most popular forms of collaboration is audio conferencing—it’s quick, easy and generally less expensive than its video or Web counterparts, not to mention the travel it replaces (whether that’s across town or across the world). But companies are still spending thousands of dollars on audio conferencing every month; after all, although audio conferencing minutes are less expensive than they used to be, they’re not free.

Or are they?

If you haven’t heard about FreeConference (www.freeconference.com), you’re missing out on a big opportunity for savings. The site offers free reservationless conference calls, as well as a robust service that lets you schedule and control calls from the Web (also free). It also offers low-cost 800-number conferencing, but believe me, the real deal is the free stuff. Sign up is simple, and the Web-based scheduling option is especially good.

The catch, such as it is, is that callers usually must make a long-distance call to dial in. But given the rates for such calls these days, that should be a minor issue—Voice over IP and all-you-can-use packages such as the one I use in my home office for unlimited long-distance calling make such calls virtually free.

Of course, sometimes you do get what you (don’t) pay for: Occasionally the system has a strange habit of indiscriminately interrupting a random caller and playing the options menu, making it impossible for that person to hear or be heard for about 30 seconds. And because the conferences share a limited number of bridges, or dial-in numbers, and users set their own access codes, it is not unheard of for two calls to be scheduled with the same access code at the same time (although if you pick a random code, it’s unlikely anyone could intentionally call into your conference uninvited). But my experience has been great—I’ve been using the service for three years without a single dropped call or serious problem.

How does the business make money, you ask? Not, thankfully, through ads—there aren’t any. Instead, the company has deals with the carriers that give it a cut of all traffic generated by its conferences; the carriers win because they get more traffic on their networks (and so theoretically more revenue from those calls); FreeConference wins by sitting back and letting the software do the work.

Because the system isn’t perfect, can’t be customized for your business, and has low-level security I recommend using it only for day-to-day internal calls, or external calls with “friends & family”—customers and suppliers you don’t need to impress. But if your organization is typical, I can pretty much guarantee you that the service will save you lots of money.

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