Before you can consider audio control options, you need to start with conference call basics and your call options. You may be wondering how Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) calling fits in, so we'll take a quick look at that, too.
Conference call participants connect via a conference bridge, which is a server that allows multiple people to talk to each other. A company may own its own bridge or subscribe to an outside company to host conference calls on its bridge. Traditional phones use circuit switching to route each call through a series of switches until it reaches the bridge.
VoIP lets participants join in from their computers, using a microphone and speakers instead of a traditional phone. The network works differently, too. Instead of sending analog audio signals through circuits, VoIP converts those signals into digital data sent over the Internet in small chunks via packet switching.
Because VoIP calls are considerably cheaper than traditional phone calls, many companies and individuals have started using VoIP as their main communication method. Companies with a VoIP service provider can usually upgrade to get teleconferencing.
For conference call purposes, VoIP resembles traditional phone service. Both types of calls can usually connect on the same conference bridge, allowing your participants to join in from either system. However, if participants will be joining conferences via VoIP or smartphones, make sure your choice of software or hosting company can accommodate them.
Let's look at the options available for conference calls:
- Three-Way Call -- The simplest option is a three-way call made from your office or cell phone with no added conference calling software or services. Your audio controls will definitely be limited. You can, for example, use your phone to adjust how loudly you speak and how loudly sound is received, and you may be able to add up to five participants to your conference. But that may be the limit of your control.
- Audio Conferencing Software -- You, or your company, could choose to buy software that will give you conference-calling capabilities, including audio controls. Voice-only conferences came first, but with increased interest in multimedia Web conferences, audio and multimedia capabilities are often bundled now in the same software. Three of these are Microsoft Office Live Meeting, Adobe Acrobat Connect and IBM's Lotus Sametime Unite.
- Hosted Conferencing Services -- You can contract with a company that hosts teleconferences. These hosts offer proprietary or shared conferencing software as well as a conference bridge, phone or Web tools such as audio controls, operator assistance and other support services. With a host company's help, you can moderate a conference call from anywhere, anytime.
Next, let's look specifically at some of the available audio controls.