Joining a conference call used to mean checking your watch and making sure you were seated at your desk next to a landline phone at the right time. Then you'd have to dial the assigned number and punch in an access code to join the group.
That's no longer the case. Companies have opened offices worldwide, and sales representatives and project managers may be off site or traveling more often. Despite differences in location and time zones, groups still need to get together to discuss budgets, sales campaigns and projects.
Wireless communications have expanded to include PDAs, smartphones, laptop computers and other mobile devices. Today, many participants may join a conference call using a mobile device -- and the host may even be on a mobile device. Knowing how to conference call can be an important business skill, both in taking part in and hosting mobile conference calls.
In this article, we'll take a closer look at mobile conference calling -- from the steps needed to make a simple three-way call to options for joining or hosting a more formal business conference call. We'll consider the software and hosted conference solutions that make conference calls easier. We'll also talk about the newest technology available for improved mobile conference calling.
Three-Way Calling from Your Mobile Device
Teenagers across the United States use three-way calling to make plans or share social news with friends. Three-way calling is conference calling at its easiest. The business world relies on conference calling for communication exchanges between colleagues and customers. In many ways, three-way calling from a mobile device resembles calling from a landline phone.
Initiating mobile three-way calling has become as simple as pressing a few buttons. Here are step-by-step instructions for initiating a three-way call from three popular mobile devices -- a BlackBerry, an iPhone and a Windows Mobile Treo smartphone.
To initiate a three-way call from your BlackBerry:
- On the home screen, click phone.
- Click the trackwheel, and select new call.
- Highlight a contact, click the trackwheel and select call.
- While the first contact is highlighted, click the trackwheel and select hold.
- Click the trackwheel and select new call.
- Select the second recipient, click the trackwheel, and select call.
- After you're connected to the second call, click the trackwheel and select join.
- To add more callers to the conference, repeat Steps 4 through 7.
- Terminate the conference call as you would a phone call.
[source: BlackBerry Technical Solution Center]
Some BlackBerry models include three-way call as an option on the trackwheel. If so, click that option, click the contact and press enter twice. During the second call, click the trackwheel and then flash to bring that call into the conference. To disconnect from the second call only, click on the trackwheel and select flash.
To make a three-way call from your iPhone:
- Make a call.
- Tap add call, and make another call. The first call will be placed on hold. If you want, you can talk privately on the second line before merging the calls.
- Tap merge calls. The calls are merged onto one line, and everyone can hear each other.
- Repeat steps 2 and 3 to add more callers to the conference. You can merge up to five calls for a phone conference.
- To add an incoming call to the conference, tap hold call + answer, and then tap merge calls.
- To talk privately to one caller during the conference, tap conference and then tap private next to a call. Tap merge calls to return the caller to the conference.
- To drop one caller from the conference, tap conference and then tap private next to a call. Then tap end call.
[source: Apple iPhone User Guide]
To start a three-way call from your Windows Mobile Treo Smartphone:
- Dial the first call, and wait for the recipient to pick up. Ask them to wait a minute and press hold.
- Dial the second number.
- The conference option will appear on screen. Select conference to join the calls together.
- To end the call, hit end conference to hang up the second caller but keep the first caller online. Or hit power/end to hang up both calls.
[source: Palm's Knowledge Base]
The downside to three-way calling is that you usually can only connect with five or six people, at most. In the next section, we'll look at how you can join a larger, more formal business conference call from your mobile device.
Joining a Formal Conference Call from Your Mobile Device
Joining a formal conference call from a mobile device is inevitable at some point -- whether you're in a hotel room in Beijing, on a construction site in Dubai or outside your son's suburban hockey rink. Fortunately, BlackBerry and other mobile devices make joining a conference call easy. Assistance from companies that provide conference hosting services also can put you in touch easily with the other participants.
The process of joining many formal business conference calls hasn't changed much since everyone participated on a landline. You're given a phone number to call to connect to the specific conference and a PIN to use for security. Specifically, you:
- Dial the number at the correct time.
- Wait for the prompt after you're connected.
- Enter the PIN you received.
- Announce yourself to the group when you're connected to the conference.
The big difference with a mobile phone is being able to join the conference from your own personal device, anywhere, any time.
Some conference hosting companies like Vello Corp. offer a paging service to make joining the conference even easier. This solves the problem of remembering phone numbers and PINs -- and trying to punch them into your mobile device while you're doing something else. With the Vello service, your phone rings at conference time, and you're automatically connected with everyone. Currently available for BlackBerry users, the service is being rolled out for other mobile devices and requires registration for Vello conferencing services. [source: Vello press release].
Whether you're paged or you dial in, take care of a few details before joining the conference so you can participate politely.
Here are some suggestions that Treo manufacturer Palm Inc. offers from seasoned pros:
- Make sure your phone is charged before joining the call. Nothing is more frustrating than suddenly dropping out in the middle of a conference because you're out of power.
- Look at the signal strength bars on your screen. If you only see one or two, try to move to a better location.
- Right before the call, flip your mobile device's ringer switch to off to reduce distractions. This mutes systems sounds and alerts except for the microphone and phone speaker.
- If possible, don't use the speakerphone on your mobile device during conference calls. The sound quality isn't as good, and straining to hear you may frustrate other participants.
- Background noise also can be a problem. If you're alone, use a headset to keep ambient noise at a minimum.
[source: Palm's Knowledge Base]
During the conference call, keep your focus on what's being said. Most mobile devices will allow you to send text messages, check your calendar, play games or use other non-Internet applications while you're on a conference call. Resist the temptation, and you won't find yourself saying, "I'm sorry . . . what did you say?"
Participating in a formal business conference call is one thing. Hosting is another. Keep reading to discover your options for hosting a conference call from your mobile device.
Hosting a Conference Call
You're off site at a project that's running over budget; the client wants massive changes -- and key suppliers are late with materials. You need to host a conference call fast with everyone to get this project back on track -- and you realize you'll probably be hosting the conference from your mobile device. What are your options?
Conference calls are easier to host from a landline, no doubt about it, so that's the first option you should consider in deciding how to host a conference call. Sound quality is better, more hosting software is available and companies that offer conference call hosting can provide you with a wider variety of services.
You also have to consider your mobile device's limitations. Many aren't set up to allow more than five or six participants in a conference. Also in most cases you can't record a conference call from your mobile device -- unless you use a hosting company.
If you need to forge ahead with hosting a conference call from your mobile device, making a simple conference call is fairly easy. And more complete hosting options are becoming available to help you as technology improves.
For example, Ring2 Conferencing from Ring2 Communications lets Blackberry and Windows Mobile PDA users be conference call leaders. After joining the conference call from anywhere on his or her mobile device, the call leader can:
- See a real-time list of participants as they join or leave the call
- Ensure nobody is listening in who shouldn't be
- Add missing participants from the mobile device's address book
- Mute participants with distracting background noise
- Record the call and download it as an MP3 file after the call
UK-based ROK Corp. is beta testing another mobile conferencing solution, ROK Talk, which allows the conference host to talk to 30 people simultaneously, working off the mobile device's contact list. ROK Talk also uses the contacts list to manage invitations and introductions and allows in-call conference control from the mobile device.
Given the growing popularity of mobile devices and conference calling, conferencing solutions are bound to improve with new and developing technology.
For lots more information about joining or hosting a conference call from your mobile device and related topics, check out the links on the next page.