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Choosing a Conference Call Service: A Buyer's Guide

Choosing a Conference Call Service: A Buyer's Guide
Credit: MajestiX B/Shutterstock

Meetings with employees, colleagues and collaborators are a necessary part of running your business. But face-to-face meetings aren't always possible. That's why conference calls are such a valuable tool.

Conference calls allow large groups of people meet remotely over the phone, or let individuals drop into a meeting from a remote location — all without the need for camera-equipped computers or video chat software.  And since everyone already knows how to place a phone call, conference calling eliminates barriers to a smooth and productive remote meeting.

In this guide, we roundup the conference call services we think are the best for businesses in 2018. We also explain our methodology for how we chose them, how much you should expect to pay for a conference call service and what features to look for when choosing a service. Additionally, we provide a comprehensive list of conference call services in case the options we recommended aren't a fit for your business.

Editor's note: Looking for information on conference call and video conferencing services? Use the questionnaire below, and our vendor partners will contact you to provide you with the information you need.

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Conference Calling by Vast Conference is a robust conference call service that offers both reservationless and operator-assisted services. This gives you the freedom to host everyday meetings, as well as large formal conferences when the time arise. The reservationless system supports up to 300 callers at a time, while the operator-assisted service can handle calls with up to 6,000 participants. Conference Calling offers a wide selection of valuable features, such as customizable greetings, dial out options, call recording and web controls. The service is available in a pay-per-minute or unlimited monthly plan.

You can read a full review of Conference Calling on our sister site Business.com

FreeConference.com has everything small businesses need in a conference call service, all for no cost. The reservationless service allows businesses to conduct conference calls at any time. Calls can be scheduled in advanced, or hosted spontaneously. The service, which does play ads when callers first dial in, includes several valuable features, such as call recording, web meeting controls and the ability to host online conferences. There is also a paid plan that eliminates ads and includes customized greetings and music. The service supports up to 1,000 callers, integrates with Microsoft Outlook and Google Calendar and offers a mobile app for iOS and Android devices.

You can read a full review of FreeConferenceCall.com on our sister site Business.com

RingCentral is an impressive business phone system that has an equally impressive conference call service built into it. The conference call bridge comes standard on each user's extension and can support up to 1,000 callers at a time. The system allows any user to host a conference call at any time, without having to schedule it in advance. The conference call feature includes free call recording and a Microsoft Outlook integration that allows for easy meeting scheduling. RingCentral offers local dial-in numbers in more than 50 countries worldwide for those who host meetings with callers located outside the U.S.

You can read our full review of RingCentral on our sister site Business.com

WebEx is a web conference service that includes conference calling. With this service, you have the option of having participants connect to a meeting either via their phones or computers. The only stipulation is that at least one participant must enter the conference room online. Once this happens, everyone else can join the meeting by phone. Those on the phone can participate, just as if they had joined from a computer. WebEx includes call recording and a "call me" tool that allows the system to call you when the meeting is set to begin.

You can read a full review of WebEx on our sister site Business.com.

To determine the best conference call services, Business.com started by looking at a comprehensive list of nearly 30 conference call service providers.  They pared that list down by separating the vendors that had solid online reputations, such as those services that were consistently ranked highly by other websites.

They also visited each company's website. If a company stood out to the reviewers, it was added to the final list.

Based on those factors, they eventually narrowed down the pool of contenders to 17 service providers: Arkadin, AT Conference, ConferenceCalls.com, Conference Town, FreeConference, FreeConferenceCall.com, Free Conference Pro, Infinite Conferencing, InterCall, No Cost Conference, PGI, RingCentral, Totally Free Conference, UberConference, Vast Conference, WebEx and Zip Conferencing.

Next, the team continued their research of each contender by investigating its services, watching tutorials and how-to videos, testing out the service when possible, and reading user comments. After narrowing the list down even further, they contacted the customer support team of their finalists. They posed as business owners to gauge the type of service each provider offers its users. In all, they analyzed each system based on the following criteria:

  • Type of services: reservationless, operator-assisted or both
  • Call controls
  • Call recording
  • Features
  • Integrations
  • Mobile apps
  • Cost and cost structure
  • Customer support
  • International access
  • Better Business Bureau complaints and rating

Conference call services typically have two sets of cost structures. Some charge for the minutes you use, while others charge a monthly fee for unlimited use.

With pay-as-you-go plans, you a charged a per-minute fee for each caller. For a reservationless service, these fees typically range from 2 to 10 cents per minute. Operator-assisted services are more expensive. The per minute fees range from 15 to 30 cents. It is important to remember that these per minute fees are for each participant on the call. For example, a 30-minute reservationless call with eight callers, including the host, would likely cost between $4.80 and $24. A 30-minute operator-assisted call, with 100 participants, would cost between $450 and $900.

Unlimited monthly plans are usually only offered with reservationless services. With these plans, you can host any length of meeting as often as you want for the same cost. Unlimited monthly plans tend to range anywhere from $7 to $60 per month.

Depending on the service provider you choose, there can be some extra fees. Some providers charge extra for things like call recording, translations, transcriptions and customized greetings.

When choosing a conference call service, it is important to ensure it offers what your business needs. Among some of the most important features to look for include:

  • Reservationless service: This type of service allows you to host conference calls anytime 24/7. No advanced scheduling is needed. Your conference line is always available for you.
  • Operator-assisted service: If your business holds formal conference calls that need a personal touch, then you want a provider that can provide operator-assisted services when necessary. With this type of service, a dedicated representative helps you plan the meeting ahead of time by sending out invites and ensuring the call's itinerary makes sense. During the call, the representative greets callers, gathers their contact information and manages speakers and question and answer sessions. After the call, they can provide you with the participant list and a recording and transcription of the call.
  • Caller limits: You want to choose a service that can support the number of meeting participants you have, whether that's 5, 10, 50 or several hundred. The service should be able to handle your caller needs. Many reservationless services support several hundred callers, while most operator-assisted service can handle several thousand callers at a time.
  • Call controls: With some services, the host can manage the call from their phone's dial pad, others allow the host to control the call from an online portal. Both options give the host the ability to mute callers, start call recordings, lock the call and end the call. The web controls also give the host added benefit of being able to see each person that is on the call.
  • Call recording: Most services allow you to record each conference call. Where providers differ is with how the recordings can be played back. Some providers keep them stored in the cloud, with those who missed the meeting able to listen online or by calling in and accessing the recording over the phone. Other providers allow you to download the recording so it can be played back or emailed to others, while some will burn the recording to a CD and mail it to you.
  • Mobile app: Some conference call services offer a mobile app for iOS and Android devices that make it simple to schedule, host and participate in conference calls.
  • International access: If you plan to host conference calls with participants who are located overseas, make sure the conference call service you choose makes it easy for those participants to join the call. Many services offer local dial-in numbers in countries around the world.
  • Calling tools: There are two main calling tools that you may find valuable. One is a dial out feature that allows you to put your conference on hold and add someone into the meeting by calling them directly. The other is a call you option that removes the burden of having to remember the dial in and access numbers. With this feature, the service calls you when the conference call is scheduled to begin.
  • Integrations: Some conference call service offer integrations with email and calendar services. These integrations, such as with Microsoft Outlook, simplify the process of scheduling conferences and sending out meeting invites.
  • Customer support: Make sure the conference call service provider you choose is available to answer your questions when you need them. In addition to offering phone, email and live chat support, some services allow you to contact an operator for help in the middle of a conference call by dialing *0.

Here is a full list of conference call services and a summary of what each company claims to offer. This alphabetical list also includes our best picks.

AnyMeeting – AnyMeeting is a web conferencing service that includes conference calling that can support up to 200 callers with any plan. Your AnyMeeting account includes a conference call number and PIN codes for you and your attendees. Pro subscribers can provide their attendees a US toll-free dial-in number for their meetings. As a conference call host, you'll have full call controls including the ability to mute and unmute attendees, lock the call, and control entry and exit chimes. anymeeting.com

Arkadin – Arkadin offers both reservationless and operator-assisted conference calling services. Arkadin Anytime, the reservationless service, hosts meetings with up to 100 participants and features call recording, one-time PINs and phone keypad controls. The operator-assisted service provides organizations with a dedicated representative who helps plan and manage your conference call. arkadin.com

AT Conference – AT Conference is a completely on-demand conference call service that allows you to conduct conference calls 24/7 using any landline or mobile phone. It provides an easy to use platform and cloud conferencing tools for complete conference and account management. AT Conference also offers operator-assisted conference calling services. atconference.com

Civicom – Civicom offers both on-demand and operator-assisted conference calling services. The on-demand service supports up to 2,500 callers, while the operator-assisted service can host meetings with as many as 5,000 callers. Features include call recording, full host controls, secure entry, pre-conference green rooms, hands free conference entry and instant call summary reports. civi.com

ConferenceCalls.com – ConferenceCalls.com's audio conferencing is easy to use with a seven-digit conference code and provides reservationless conference calls with no contracts or commitments. It has worldwide local access coverage in over 20 countries, along with toll-free access and global dial-out options. The reservationless service supports calls with up 50 people and offers call recording. Operator-assisted conference calling is also available. conferencecalls.com

Conference Calling – Conference Calling by Vast Conference offers reservationless and operator-assisted conference calling services. The reservationless service can support up to 300 callers at one time, while the operator-assisted service can host calls with up to 6,000 participants. The service features web controls, call recording, custom greetings and outbound dialing. conferencecalling.com

Conference Calls Unlimited – Conference Calls Unlimited provides phone conferencing, web conferencing and operator-attended services. The company offers customized pay-per-use and monthly pricing. The on-demand service is available 24/7 and includes call recording. conferencecallsunlimited.com

ConferTel – ConferTel offers on-demand, full service, unassisted audio conferencing for everyday use with toll-free or toll dial in numbers, as well as operator-assisted services for large-scale, high profile conference calls that require special attention and white glove concierge services. Features include call recording, custom greetings and transcriptions. confertel.net

ConferenceTown.com – ConferenceTown.com was developed to offer free conference calling to the corporate world, as well as the casual conference call user. ConferenceTown.com offers a Free Instant Conference option, which allows you to start a conference instantly, without registering or signing up. The service supports up to 5,000 callers at a time and includes call recording for no additional charge. conferencetown.com

FreeConference.com – FreeConference.com offers a complete set of free audio and web conferencing features, including free international dial-ins, moderator controls, call summaries, screen sharing, call recording and SMS notifications. The reservationless service can host calls with up to 400 participants at one time. freeconference.com

FreeConferenceCall.com – FreeConferenceCall.com is a reservationless service that allows for unlimited calls each month for no cost. The service features HD audio conferencing, screen sharing, video conferencing, audio and visual recordings, customized greetings, security features, calendar integrations and mobile applications. freeconferencecall.com

FreeConferenceCalling – FreeConferenceCalling is a reservationless conference call service that allows you to host meetings on-demand with up to 1,000 callers. The service features, call reporting, call reports, and an online conference manager. freeconferencecalling.com

Free Conference Pro – Free Conference Pro is a free, full-featured audio conferencing service. You can make unlimited audio conference calls without having to pay for any bridging time. Both on-demand and scheduled conferencing is available. Both options can support as many as 800 callers at one time. freeconferencepro.com

Infinite Conferencing – Infinite Conferencing offers reservationless and operator-assisted conference calling services. The reservationless service, which supports up to 100 callers, includes dual passcodes, international dialing, dial out, call recording and mobile apps. infiniteconferencing.com

Instant Conference – Instant Conference is a reservationless conference call service that can support as many as 150 participants on each call. The web-based moderator controls provide your conference organizer with the ability to monitor attendance, and activate call features, such as recording or changing the call's muting configuration. An online control panel displays available Caller ID information, and you can "ping" individual participants to take roll call. instantconference.com

InterCall – InterCall's Reservationless-Plus service does not require reservations or operators. You have the ability to control your conference commands from your telephone keypad. You receive customizable features and can select from English, Spanish or Portuguese for your system prompts. In addition, use the Conferencing Center to manage your account and conference calls online. InterCall also offers operator-assisted services. http://intercallonline.com/ResPlus

No Cost Conference – No Cost Conference provides instant, unlimited, automated and free conference calls that take place on regular telephone lines (including cell phones) – no computer or internet access required. These conference call services are available 24/7 with no scheduling, and unlimited call times. Callers may also access via VOIP services like Skype. The service can host as many as 500 callers at one time. nocostconference.com

OnConference – OnConference is a conference call service with toll free access in more than 100 countries. No reservations or advanced bookings are required. Receive your own dedicated access codes. Host up to 96 participants anytime. The service features call recording. onconference.com

PGI – PGI's GlobalMeet conference calling service offers both reservationless and operator-assisted options. The reservationless service features call recording and web controls. The operator-assisted service provides assistance on planning and running the conference calls. Customer support is available 24/7. pgi.com/globalmeet-audio-conferencing

QCONF – QCONF is a reservationless conference call service. The service features unlimited conferencing minutes, call recording, Outlook and Google integration, branded welcome messages, customized invitations, real-time controls and SMS reminders. qconf.com

RingCentral – RingCentral is a business phone system that includes a robust conference calling service. Each user has access to their own conference bridge, which can support up to 1,000 callers at a time. The reservationless service allows users to host conference calls at any time without any advanced scheduling. The conferencing feature integrates with Microsoft Outlook. ringcentral.com

Toll Free Conference – Toll Free Conference offers both reservationless and operator-assisted conference calling services. Reservationless calls can host up to 300 callers, while the operator-assisted service can support up to 6,000 participants at a time. The service features call recording, web-based call management and a conference call reporting platform. tollfreeconference.com

Totally Free Conference Calls – Totally Free Conference Calls allows you to host a conference whenever you want. No reservations are required. Free calls can support up to 500 callers at a time, however for a nominal fee the limit can increase to 10,000. Features include an echo canceler, full web controls, call recording, scheduled replays, presentation mode, Q&A mode and call detail reports. totallyfreeconferencecalls.com

Turbo Bridge – Turbo Bridge provides a "meet-me" conferencing service, where all parties dial into the system. No special equipment is required, and most callers dial in with standard landline or mobile phones, though callers could also connect through a computer. The service can host meetings with up to 300 callers at one time. Call recording is available for no extra charge.  turbobridge.com

UberConference – UberConference is a reservationless conference calling service that allows you to launch meetings from the office, home, or on the go with any device. It features screen sharing, call controls, custom hold music, call you tools, call recording, dial out options, international calling and mobile apps for iOS and Android devices. uberconference.com

WebEx – WebEx is a web conferencing service that allows participants to join meetings via the phone. Once one participant was joined online, all the other participants can join by dialing in. This gives you the flexibility of having a web conferencing service that allows those who aren't near a computer the ability to join your meetings. The service features call recording and a call me tool. webex.com

Zip Conferencing – Zip Conferencing offers reservationless and operator-assisted conference calling services. The reservationless service, which can host meetings with up to 300 callers, includes call recording, customizable setting, call blocking and multiple-presenter controls. The operator-assisted service can host meetings with up to 3,000 participants. zipconferencing.com

If you'd like your company to be added to the list and possibly considered as a best pick for our next round of reviews, please email your request to: b2bconsiderrequest@purch.com.

Editor's note: Looking for information on conference call and video conferencing services? Use the questionnaire below, and our vendor partners will contact you to provide you with the information you need.

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Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based writer who has nearly 15 years' experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.