article

Not Your Father’s Audioconference

Posted: 2/2002

Not Your Father’s Audioconference
Phone Meetings Remodeled by Automation,

Online Management Functions

By Khali Henderson

With the spotlight on its collaborative cousin, audioconferencing is being passed over in the headlines like car reviewers striding past the Oldsmobiles to check out the PT Cruisers.

However, for conferencing customers, the appeal of the more familiar vehicle remains strong, raking in $1.39 billion in 2000, reports Frost & Sullivan. The research firm predicts that number to jump to $2.23 billion by 2006.

But that’s not to say users are content with the same old ride. What’s been driving the growth has been the introduction of

auto-mated, reservationless services, which accounted for nearly 65 percent of revenue in 2000 and are expected to drive nearly 83 percent in 2006, Frost & Sullivan says.

In fact, optional high-performance features rolling off the production line are giving audioconferencing users unprecedented control and information — right from their desktops.

While it appears an intermediate step between audioconferencing and webconferencing, these online management functions may be getting a boost from the surge in popularity of
webconferencing.

"Webconferencing’s utility is driving usage of online meeting tools,” says Jerry McEleney, vice president of wholesale services for Genesys Conferencing. He explains that for many users it is not intuitive to manage an audio call from their desktop, but once they find how useful it is in contrast to touchtone controls, they prefer it.

“Increasingly people are comfortable using their desktop and laptops [to manage communications]. The functionality is greater with the visual presentation.”

For its fall release of Genesys Meeting Center, Genesys integrated its preexisting TeleMeeting online management tools with its webconferencing product. However, the online management tools can be used with an audio-only call, McEleney explains.

An audio status and control bar next to participants’ names identifies the active speaker and allows the moderator to manage the audio portion of the conference. Other new advanced features including waiting room, subconference rooms, mute and un-mute, as well as ad hoc polling.

Genesys Meeting Center also offers an “invitation wizard” with Microsoft Outlook integration, RSVP and reminder for invitation management.

InterAct Conferencing offers a similar product WebExpress as an add-on to its audio service, ExpressCall. For an additional 25 cents per minute per person, you can view and manage participants or join a new participant on the phone by entering their names and phone numbers or choosing from a directory of previously dialed numbers. Online call statistics are expected to be available during the first quarter; an e-mail report is available showing all the participants, the length of the call and any applicable billing code for billing back to clients or departments.

WebExpress also allows for “lightweight” webconferencing functions, such as viewing a presentation and text questions. The product allows you to record the audio and visual components of a conference call digitally. The call recording is stored in the user’s account as a hyperlink for others who need to access the call.

Last spring, Network IP developed its e.Conferencing platform with an interesting twist–prepayment. In full production mode since October, e.Conferencing is the only web-based teleconferencing management system that is prepaid.

CEO Pete Pattullo says because of the prepayment functionality, e.Conferencing includes a real-time billing engine that allows users to monitor usage charges in real time and recharge the account without having to hang up to speak to a service representative. Moder-ators also can print expense reports with participants listed for the exact cost of the conference call when the meeting concludes.

e.Conferencing is integrated with Network IP’s other stored value services and can be sold in combination with prepaid long distance, Internet or Duocash services using the same PIN.

e.Conferencing is available only on a wholesale basis to telecom carriers and other entities. “What we envision is a conferencing product that can be sold at Office Max or at an airport,” says Pattullo. Manufacturer’s suggested retail price for e.Conferencing is 12 cents to 15 cents per minute per person.

Enhancements to the e.Conferencing service such as wave file recordings of the call, pre-populated recharge screens, polling and address book integration are due during the first quarter.


Audioconferencing Market Forecast
Source: Frost & Sullivan (www.frost.com)

 


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