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Is it ‘the End of the Line for the Conference Call?’

Alexis Madrigal recently posed the question, “Have We Reached The End Of The Line For The Conference Call?” during a broadcast for NPR, transcribed on the NPR tech blog.  In this segment he discusses the disconnect he sees between the technological advances that have been made since Alexander Graham Bell invented the first telephone, and the fact that conference calls are still built on the legacy phone network and plagued with various issues.

In essence, Alexis is asking why these problems haven’t been fixed already.  He discusses a couple of companies who are trying to fix these problems, as well as alternative communication channels such as video conferencing or instant messenger.  He ultimately concludes that it is not the end of the line for the conference call since it has the great attribute of interoperability: everyone is able to join the call, and multiple generations are comfortable with this business activity.

We agree with this conclusion, but have a few points to add to Alexis’ analysis.

First, to deal with the specific problems that Alexis references – mistakes with dial-in numbers and PIN codes, annoying background noise, or having to ask “is so-and-so on the line?” – these issues can be solved by giving the leader visibility and control over the conference call.  However, this is not the full answer.  We feel that for conference calls to work well, there are four things to think about beyond this basic visibility and control.

1. Human Behaviour on Conference Calls

As many commenters on the article pointed out, conference calls can be completely ruined by the participants on the call, rather than any issues around the technology of the call itself.  Unfortunately, there is not much to do about this other than trying to educate users about conference call etiquette (for example, see 5 tips to stop wasting time on conference calls).

2. Call Quality

The quality of a conference call is determined by the quality of the least leg on the call, so quality of media ingress and egress is key.  This is a baseline requirement which should be fulfilled by all reputable providers.

3. Universal Access to the Call

Related to Alexis’ point about interoperability, call access must be universal, i.e. everybody must be able to access a call wherever they are with the simplest tool available, the phone.  This is a limiting factor for video conferencing, VoIP, and communication channels which require a computer, like Hangouts or Lync.  Even if you don’t do anything more sophisticated than just speak to the other parties on the call (for example, share your screen), you will always needs to simply ‘get on the call,’ so basic call access is key.

4. Fit & Flow with Current Behaviour

Tools have existed for several years that theoretically would help to solve the problems of conference calls but if they don’t fit with the way you work (for example, the way you usually schedule a call) or require you to remember to log in to something, then widespread adoption will never be achieved.  As Alexis alludes to, some users are more comfortable with new technologies and change than others.  A tool needs to fit into the way you work, and guide you through the process so that you don’t need training.


These are the problems of the solutions of the past and also the problems of the solution sets that have recently emerged. At LoopUp we have thought about the problem from all of these angles and have come up with a solution that works and is simple to use – leading to great adoption rates.  What we have found is that by solving the basic problems of audio conferencing and screen sharing we are encouraging a new kind of user into richer collaboration.  So, instead of believing that it’s the end of the line for the conference call, we see the conference call as the beginning.  We’re excited to see where it can go next.

To learn more about how LoopUp solves problems on conference calls, Request a Live Demo or see our why LoopUp page.

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