What is a VoIP Conference Bridge? What Are its Uses?

Posted on: 2018-10-19 | Categories:SIP

New technology usually brings new features but that doesn’t mean older processes remain unchanged. VoIP introduced innovative new tools to enterprise voice communication but it has also affected existing workflows. One such feature that VoIP has improved is conference calling.

Conference Calling Before VoIP

Conference calls are not a new feature, at least to businesses. Traditional carriers have offered this feature to their clients before. But as with many other enterprise features, only larger organizations could afford to use it. Setting up and participating in a conference call took quite a bit of time and wasn’t the most intuitive process either. Because of these difficulties, conference calling wasn’t as popular as it is today.

VoIP Improved Conference Calls

The ability to make conference calls isn’t new but VoIP simplified the process and made it easier to access for organizations of all sizes. With VoIP routing phone calls over the Internet, businesses have found that many conference calls are now free. Even with international participants, conference calls are much less expensive than they used to be.

Depending on your particular set up, conference calling may need dedicated hardware, software or a specific phone number. Three-way calls – while technically considered conference calls – are much easier to set up and usually do not need a conference bridge. In fact, most modern smartphones are capable of handling 3-way calls out of the box. But most enterprises use a conference bridge to handle such calls. So what exactly is it?

What Is a VoIP Conference Bridge?

While you can make conference calls without a bridge, it becomes necessary with more complex setups. Many service providers offer conference calls between 3 to 10 participants without a bridge or even fees. But what happens if you have 25 callers at once? What if you want only 2 people to speak and others should only listen for a training seminar? These scenarios require a conference bridge.

A conference bridge can refer to dedicated hardware, software or a separate phone line that the organization uses specifically for such group calls. The conference bridge allows multiple people to participate in discussions. The host or administrator can add or remove participants, mute certain parties or change the parameters of the call. Conference calls can be ad hoc or set up well in advance. You can easily convert a regular call into a conference by adding a third participant or more people. On the other hand, you can also set up a virtual conference room where participants call in and need a PIN to authenticate themselves before participating.

How Much Does It Cost?

If you’re talking about the price charged by the provider, costs can vary across regions. Some providers charge by the minute while others included in enterprise plans for a flat fee. Your service plan will also determine the maximum number of callers you can have in a single call and whether it can include video or not.

However, the sticker price is not the only cost you have to consider. For instance, you need to decide if you need dedicated hardware for conferencing. There are quite a few SIP phone models on the market which come equipped with multiple microphones and speakers to enable HD quality audio and video. You don’t need such fancy equipment if your employees don’t use conference calls much. But for organizations where such calls can easily replace regular meetings, quality hardware pays for itself.

You can participate in conference calls through third-party apps or proprietary software provided by your vendor. Users don’t always need a computer either, you can always call in from a desk phone or a mobile device. Also, have a device with a camera for participating in video conference calls but it is not necessary. Many organizations have meetings where only a few participants use video while others use audio only.

What Benefits Do You Get?

One of the biggest benefits of conference calls is that it is much less expensive than in-person meetings, both in terms of money and time. Imagine all the money you would save if employees didn’t have to travel to the head office for meetings! Even if no one has to travel, conference calls are more efficient in their use of time. Many organizations notice that meetings are much shorter and more productive when they use a conference bridge than otherwise.

Conference calls promote collaboration across teams and between team members. Quite a few businesses have remote employees or projects with team members scattered across multiple offices/regions. VoIP conference calling allows such employees to keep in touch even when they’re not sitting next to each other. Thanks to VoIP technology, you can talk to someone across the world as if they were sitting right across the desk. In an enterprise context, it adds up to countless hours saved and improved productivity across the board.