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Why Conference Calls Suck

I work from home for a certain large company. While like all large companies there’s an office within driving distance to my house, the local offices have nothing to do with the work I do. The office I do work for is several hundred miles away. This means I spend a lot of time on conference calls with people that are in the office.

The company I work for uses a VoIP bridge for the conference calls. That saves the company quite a bit of money, as you might imagine, but it’s not perfect. The bridge generally works, but there are occasional sound quality issues–some of which the VoIP bridge itself cannot easily solve.

There are three types of people that dial into our conference bridge. We have the conference rooms with large tables professional-quality speakerphones in them, the people at home on their mobile phone, and we have people dialing into another VoIP-type system to get into our conference bridge.

Speakerphones are a problem for a few reasons: the sound quality of the people speaking into the speakerphone is horrible, the people listening in on a speakerphone may not be able to hear, and often speakerphones are half-duplex, meaning both parties cannot speak at the same time.

Mobile phones are a problem for two reasons: the audio quality is degraded with just a normal handset and, if the person uses a bluetooth headset, the audio quality is often degraded further.

Some participants may use a non-PSTN method for joining the conference bridge. This is the case in India or other countries not friendly to VoIP conference bridges. This also includes people like myself who dial into the bridge via Skype.

All of these different inbound call methods will likely employ a compressed voice signal. This gets thrown into the VoIP bridge, which then ends up re-encoding the voice into the appropriate codec. Each time a voice is re-encoded with a different codec, data is lost. Any imperfections are amplified by this process as well, making it difficult to understand some participants, particularly if English isn’t their first language.

What can we do about this? Get everyone to dial in via the same means? Fat chance. If someone can figure out the solution to this problem, though, they’d be rich.

Creative Commons License photo credit: Apollo-Jack


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