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What makes a good conference call?

Mehmet Hussein Mehmet Hussein
Mehmet Hussein
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While many of us have returned to the office, lots of people are still working from home (or the beach), and that means lots of people are dialing into conference calls. But when you’re dialing in you might find that the call drops out, or Jeff from accounting sounds like a robot. Whatever your problems are, we thought we’d let you know why, and what you might be able to do about it.

With this info, you’ll be able to make informed suggestions to your conferencing provider so you can get the highest quality lines and connections.

Why are people experiencing bad conference calls?

Your typical conferencing provider will be focussed on the margin they make on a per-conference-call basis and will be charging out per-user, per-minute, or some other basis. That price is dependent on the cost at which they’re buying the minutes from their provider.

This model naturally lends itself to conferencing solutions trying to purchase minutes as cheaply as possible with the lowest possible quality that they can get away with. They won’t go for the highest possible quality, they will go for what they think is the optimal quality vs the cost.

Aggregated comms vs specialist comms

But there are cases where a conferencing provider doesn’t appreciate the differences in the levels of service offered by service providers that aggregate their comms versus specialist comms providers that provide you with guaranteed high-quality routes.

So at a time like this where conference call usage is at a peak and bandwidth is being hammered by everyday usage, conference call attendees might notice some problems like:

Dialing In:

  • Inability to join
  • Busy tones
  • Dead numbers

On-Call:

  • Jitter
  • Packet loss
  • Stuttering/robotic voices

If that’s what you’re experiencing, it’s almost certainly because your conferencing provider is buying from a large scale carrier aggregator for whom voice is not the only traffic on their network and it’s often contending with data and bandwidth-consuming services on their network.

What can be done?

The standard way of connecting to a conference call is to connect as many do—via the internet, where there’s no load on the PSTN network at all. But if you’re in a heavily populated area and you find that everyone in your area is working from home (as most of us did over the last year and many of us continue to do) and everyone’s kid is watching movies in 4K, you might find that there’s not enough bandwidth to have your Zoom call. So what do you do?

Well at Bandwidth, right now we’re seeing increased load on our network where a number of people are falling back to ‘dialing in’ to their conference calls and trying to connect via the good old PSTN, rather than an IP based connection.

This increase in the number of people doing this could be that people don’t know that they can connect via the internet, or, that they have tried and it has simply failed.

The worst of both worlds

So we have a double-layered problem here. We have our home broadband not being able to cope with the bandwidth needed to sustain high-quality conference calls over the internet, and we have conferencing providers that are using aggregated low-quality connections for their dial-in calls.

If that’s where you’re finding yourself, you need to talk to your conferencing provider and make sure that they aren’t using a service provider that aggregates its calls and instead uses a dedicated voice carrier. What you want is uncontended connections to whoever you’re calling, and your conferencing provider is the one that can make that happen.

That way, you get guaranteed connections and reduced packet loss/jitter.