Back in March, I wrote a post about my search for a different office phone setup. I had been using a custom ring number (inexpensive but doesn’t allow separate outgoing messages for the home and office numbers) and had excluded the option of a business cell phone, simply because I dislike carrying and talking on a cell phone (there, I said it!). After much hemming and hawing and gnashing of teeth, I decided to switch my office phone line to Vonage’s minimum VOIP (Internet phone) plan, and around the same time I purchased a WebEx Event Center account for my translation webinar business.
My verdict on both of these services is: meh. Which, now that it’s been added to the Collins English Dictionary, is a legitimate expression of indifference and mediocrity. So here we go with the details:
For now, I’m sticking with Vonage, but I don’t love them. I have their “US & Canada 300” plan, which runs $11.99 per month plus taxes and fees. I set it up myself with no problems, Vonage ported my custom ring number with no problems, and the service worked as soon as I connected the Vonage box. Given the overall reputation of telcos and customer service, you have to give them credit for that! However, the sound quality on the Vonage line is far from stellar. It’s definitely not as clear as a land line or even Skype; I haven’t had any dropped calls, but the sound quality just is not smooth: lots of blips and skips and missed half-syllables, which can be irritating on a business call. And it’s worth noting that my DSL connection is fast enough that Skype, YouTube, etc. are no problem. In addition, the outgoing sound (meaning what the person I’m talking to hears) seems to cut out completely for a second or two if I’m talking on the Vonage line and my home land line rings. Still, for $16 a month including taxes, it’s workable. I mainly have the line so that my clients get a nice, professional outgoingl message, and so that I can update the message when I’m out of the office. One Vonage feature I’ve really come to love is the e-mailed .wav files of voicemail messages. When I’m away for a few days, for example at the ATA conference, I can just listen to my voicemails on my netbook and then decide if I need to respond. No more calling the office line a few times a day to check for messages! Executive summary: not a bad value for the cost, but not advisable if you talk on the phone a great deal for business.
On the other hand, WebEx proved to be a fairly crashing disappointment. Speaking of Translation purchased a subscription to Event Center 100 for $99 a month, a fairly large investment for our small venture. However, we were convinced that WebEx was the webinar platform of choice for enterprise-quality events, so we felt that the investment would pay off. It took us a few tries to get the platform working (and we’re not technophobes!) and the user interface has some definite flaws. For example when you schedule an event, the default number of attendees is “99999,” regardless of the number of attendees that your account allows. So, if you forget to change that number, your webinar can be oversubscribed before you realize the error. In addition, the interface allows you to enable both the over-the-phone audioconference option and the VOIP audioconference option, but they are not compatible with each other; and that’s before you find out that the VOIP feature is essentially unusable due to its poor sound quality. On three of the webinars we hosted, the presenter’s audio connection suddenly dropped in the middle of the session (different presenters using different phone providers) and our attendees had many problems configuring WebEx’s viewer widget to view our live webinars and our recordings. WebEx’s tech support reps were always polite and helpful, but in the end it took a huge amount of our time to resolve (or attempt to resolve) these problems and we ended up issuing a lot of complimentary webinar vouchers to make up for them. There are also some features that seem pretty basic that WebEx just does not have: no on-hold or waiting music for attendees, no way to block attendees from hearing what the presenters are saying before the session starts, etc. So, we’re all through with WebEx for now!
On a more positive note, I recently discovered a very neat audioconferencing tool, FreeConferenceCallHD. Like other free audioconference services, this one allows your call attendees to phone a toll number and participate in your conference call while you control things via a web dashboard. The dashboard allows you to mute and unmute people, record the call, etc. The very appealing feature of FreeConferenceCallHD is the option for attendees to connect by Skype, using a Skype-to-Skype contact (free) rather than a Skype-to-phone contact. For example, attendees just add “freeconferencecallhd.XXXXXXXXXX” (where the Xs represent your toll dial-in number) as a Skype contact; the contact request is automatically accepted, then the attendee initiates a call to that number and they’re placed into the audioconference. This is nice because it eliminates international access number problems; no more “I live in the Czech Republic but I have a Slovenian cell phone number, so what number should I call???” I’ve conducted two very successful tests with this platform; at first I was honestly skeptical that a free service could provide a high-quality product, but the two calls I’ve done have honestly gone better than any of the WebEx sessions that we did. So, this looks like an attractive option for 2012!