A conference call is a call between three or more callers. Businesses VoIP services providers allow for multi-way calling with three or more callers. Some providers, such as Nextiva using NextOS, even allow up to fifteen callers at a time without a conference bridge. But the more callers you have, the more complicated it gets. That’s why you need a conference bridge to make it easy for all parties involved to connect. A conference bridge can refer to the software, hardware, and/or the phone number used to make a large conference call.

In order to have a conference call, you need the proper hardware. It goes without saying that you can have a conference call simply by using a phone. But, with VoIP, and especially SIP, there are a half a dozen different ways to start or join a conference. The most obvious is a computer. You can run Skype, Go To Meeting, or your VoIP provider’s propriety software, just to name a few. You will definitely need a set of speakers, and you may need a microphone. You may want a to set up web conferencing so you’ll need software and a webcam. If you aren’t using your PC, you may use a conference phone. A conference phone, rather than a regular handset, has multiple directional microphones and a speaker in the middle. If you want to add video, you’ll need an HD video camera, such as the PolyCom EagleEye, Director and either a television or projector and screen. You’d probably be surprised to learn how much a difference high quality hardware makes. If you have inferior picture and sound, you actually get fatigued as your brain works harder to fill in the blanks when you miss a syllable or the subject is out of focus. The better your hardware is, the less you even notice it’s there.

When starting a conference call, you use the conference software to invite, admit, mute, and possibly eject participants, as well as start and end the meeting itself. Once the invites are sent, the participants dial in/log in, and enter the conference PIN.  The software automates this process. In small conferences, typically everyone is allowed to speak, but in larger webinars, usually only the host speaks and mutes other calls.

The conference call line can be an actual phone number that participants dial in to, or it can be a virtual conference line. Business VoIP providers can charge users per virtual conference room, per minute, or even both. How many participants, and whether the meeting is only audio or includes video, depends on the VoIP provider and the service plan. A virtual office line needs a lot of bandwidth to handle all the video and audio data. Conferences are either “ad-hoc” or “meet me.” As the name suggests, ad-hoc conferences can happen without any advanced planning. The person who initiates the conference, also called the conference controller, can add participants at any time. Meet-me conferences require participants to dial in/log in at a specific time, with a specific number/address. If you have a phone number, you can have POTS phone users participate in your meeting.

Whether your business is large or small, a conference bridge is a useful tool to help your business collaborate and communicate. You can use a PC, but the best conferences take place in actual conference rooms, whether the room is full of people or equipment. VoIP make it easier than ever to connect people across the world as easily as if they were across the hall.

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