Skype 3.x allows conferencing for up to ten participants whether on Skype or SkypeOut; of course for SkypeOut participants there is the standard SkypeOut charge. Actually, you need one of the newer Intel Core 2 Duo processors to get to ten, otherwise the limit reduces to five. And you can set up conference calls directly within Skype’s client or via the Skype for Email Outlook Toolbar.
But what about those Monday morning company sales meetings where you have 23 sales reps in the field or the important financial reporting presentation to, say, 120 investors. If you’re all on Skype, then Vapps LLC’s HighSpeedConferencing.com service offers a no charge solution; for those Participants who come in via a PSTN line they simply pay their relevant long distance charges. If the Host would like to supply an 800 number, the charge is 10 cents per Participant per minute – a significant reduction from the $0.30 to $0.55 per minute paid previously to legacy telcos.
Speaking with Vapps CEO Ben Lilienthal late last week, I heard another success story for Skype’s Extras Gallery program. With over 20,000 downloads of their plug-in since mid-December – triggered by the official launch of the Extras Gallery at that time, they have built their activity to handling over 100,000 minutes per day and accumulated over 2 million minutes of usage over the past three weeks. In the same period they have garnered over 1,000 subscriptions for their Premium service, a monthly offering the provides recording and hand raising for $4.50 per month.
While one can create an ad hoc conference (called simply High Speed), there is a very limited feature set. With the High Speed Plus service (free for Skype-based hosts and participants) a Host can register at their website and take advantage of an extensive range of Web Controls, including the ability to schedule conference calls and send out email invitations. Or, a plug-in available via the Extras Gallery has all the web controls baked into it. It lets you schedule a call via IM or email with the other participants and then manage the session directly from the plug-in without having to go to the HighSpeedConferencing.com web site.
A host for a conference call can initiate a conference either via the HighSpeed Conferencing plug-in client or by creating and calling a designated “High Speed Conference” “Hosting” Skype Contact (via their website) or by calling a designated phone number (long distance charges apply). Enter an assigned conference room number. Skype-based Participants enter via a Participant Skype Contact link while PSTN Participants are provided long distance phone numbers which do incur long distance charges. The host also has an option to provide an 800 number; this is where the $0.10 per participant per minute charge arises.
The Host can moderate the conference by controlling who has access, who speaks, mike muting and other features required to ensure a disciplined, uninterrupted meeting. With the Premium Service ($4.50 per month) the host can also record the conference call and allow participants to “raise a hand” when they want to speak.
Vapps’ goal is to offer a high availability (99.999% or “5 nines”), high quality service, merging PSTN (TDM) and VoIP connections through one central server, Currently they are working on voice quality issues to get the PSTN connection voice quality up to the standards set by the Skype connections. At this time they see about 50% of participants coming in via Skype while the other 50% come from PSTN lines. The maximum number of users they have seen in a real life conference is just over 250.
Ben has encountered some non-traditional uses of the service, including personal and religious counseling services and charter school sessions where students become virtual classmates. With the low cost alternatives offered by HighSpeedConferencing.com I’m sure we’ll see significant growth in many affiliate group conferencing minutes.
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