Aug 04 2006
Recently I’ve been using a phone bridge that connects both Skype and regular phone users. It’s called High Speed Conferencing and it’s free. There are many free phone bridges out there these days, but having Skype and regular phone users on the same call is very helpful, especially for international communities. In general, the sound quality on this bridge has been excellent. I’ve held several successful community meetings on it, although yesterday we did have some problems with sound quality. The bridge has several usability features that don’t quite work as they should or could be improved a lot.
There are several nice features: you can dial into a local number in the US, the UK, France or Germany. To connect with Skype, you enter a pseudo-phone number, which connects you directly to an individual conference room. With the phone number, a caller needs to enter a conference room number. (Other phone bridges require you to enter a conference ID with your keypad, and that can be actually be impossible in some cases.)
There is an email scheduling feature, which may or may not be useful. For Skype users, all they need to do is click on a link and you’re automatically connected to your conference. The community events I’ve organized have a mix of people: some I know will be on the call and some who might or might not join the call. Most communities have some standard way of sending out an invitation that they’d rather use.
The web control panel is useful but could be better. It’s great to see who’s on the call, although it can be difficult to figure out who’s who for non-Skype participants. I couldn’t get the auto-refresh to work, so I kept having to hit the refresh myself. In addition, I couldn’t get the mute all users button to work, nor could I mute individuial users. I wonder whether that had anything to do with the fact that there was more than one person logged on as a moderator? (Anticipating the need to have more than one person talk in “lecture-mode,” assuming that there might be noise that we’d want to mute out.)
In general the sound quality on this bridge has been really good. I’ve had one call where we had a bad experience. Here’s a recording of a 10 second snippet in the middle of the call where we were hearing a lot of noise. The noise was intermittent but quite irritating during certain parts of an hour-and-a-half meeting. Trying to use the mute button didn’t work.
Extras. There are two “extras” on the High Speed Conferencing website, a speakerphone and software to record phone calls with Skype. On all of the calls I’ve organized on this phone bridge, I’ve always done the recording over the regular phone line, assuming that the Skype alternative has to pay a VoIP quality penalty. I’ll try both at the same time to make a comparison!
Recommendation: this is the best free phone bridge I’ve seen.
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