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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Mobile Conferencing? You Bet! Voice & Video Over IP Are Where It’s At

Are all VoIP signs pointing to mobile conferencing? Well, at least some are. IP-based conferencing isn’t new on the tech block, but mobile Web conferencing has yet to claim the title of “the next smartphone trend.”

Because executives play the role of both road warrior and business jetsetter, attending a video conference via laptop (or boardroom) can seem like an impossibility. But a dilemma such as this will likely transform mobile conferencing services from a beta launch to fully featured app. Already there are a number of VoIP apps for audio conferencing available (some of which we’ll introduce below), but mobile videoconferencing is still in its gestation period.

Conferencing Strategies & Advantages
The core objective of collaborative technology is to communicate and share information with the purpose of reaching a goal sought after by members of a team. There are plenty of virtual tools available to facilitate electronic meetings, such as messaging, chat, social media, and electronic whiteboarding, and now that both networks and smartphones are capable of supporting virtual meetings, we can add video and voice conferencing to the digital mix.

The benefits of mobile conferencing are practical: administrative time for setting up a conference is minimized; meeting leaders and participants can conduct on-the-fly meetings; and networking can remain personal as you interact visually with other meeting attendees. Both AT&T and T-Mobile are endeavoring to boost mobile productivity by offering audio conferencing services that make on-the-go collaborations more of a reality.


Designed for road warriors, the AT&T Connect Mobile App (www.wireless.att.com) for the iPhone combines audio, video, and Web conferencing into a single unified platform, making it possible to join mobile meetings free (if you’re already on the network). AT&T has created the pp to be interactive rather than passive with whiteboard view, participant emoticons (for connecting and expressing opinions), chat (with one or all associates), event hosting, and alerts. After you download AT&T Connect Mobile from the Apple App Store, you can join a mobile conference by clicking the To Connect To The Web Conference link you’ve received in an email or calendar invitation.

Although currently available in the UK only, TMobile offers Group Call for mobile conferences with up to 20 colleagues on one call. If a UK customer is calling, meeting participants can still call in from in the UK (landline or mobile) or another country, meaning U.S. callers may participate. The group call process works as follows: The meeting organizer uses his or her mobile number as the Group Identity Number; the organizer determines if a PIN is required, then schedules the meeting. Callers use the Group Call Access Number at one time.

If you have an Apple iPhone 4, you might be familiar with the FaceTime video calling feature. FaceTime lets you make full-screen video calls and stream a visual for your recipient as you continue to talk to them. To FaceTime video chat on your iPhone 4, you’ll access your Contacts and locate the person you’d like to call. If you’re already engaged in a phone conversation with said contact, you can tap the FaceTime button on the screen to transfer to video mode. An invitation will appear on his or her iPhone screen to join FaceTime. The HD (720p) camera can record something you would like to share on the other side of the device. The FaceTime interface isn’t complicated, so there’s every reason for the app to eventually develop into a videoconferencing tool.

Virtual Meeting Technologies
Mobile conferencing apps are quite similar when you get down to it. Each one lets you chat via IP with a few extras.

Calliflower. The cleverly branded Calliflower (free; www.calliflower.com) iPhone app provides you with unlimited, international voice conferencing. Calliflower lets you share documents, text chat, record calls, and archive calls. It features an in-call mode, which shows every call participant on the same screen. Additionally, the chat wall scrolls as you control the Agenda feature, enable recording, or manage volume levels. and live chat. The unified interface combines your contacts saved on AIM, GoogleTalk, IDQ, Facebook, MSN Messenger, Skype, Twitter, and Yahoo!. Fring uses a detailed call log to keep track of contact names, contact method, date, time, and outgoing or incoming status.

iVisit. Appropriate for business or pleasure, iVisit Mobile ($4.95 per month; www.ivisit.com) includes conferencing, sharing, and locationbased features. Live video is the single user mode of iVisit; multiparty video lets you conference on your mobile devices with up to eight other users. Other iVisit-ers don’t have to join your mobile meeting with the same device; anyone can be on a desktop, laptop, or phone to participate. The push-to-talk audio function operates on either the 3G network (via AT&T, Sprint, or Verizon) or Wi- Fi connectivity, so you don’t tap into your monthly minutes. The iVisit service incorporates high-resolution photo sharing and GPS LBS— with a GPS-enabled phone—for checking a point of interest or disclosing your whereabouts.

PGi Mobile. If your productivity goal is to focus purely on audio meetings, PGi Mobile (www.pgi.com) is an appropriate app option. Integrated with ReadyConference Plus, PGi Mobile is compatible with the Apple iPhone, iPod touch, or BlackBerry smartphone. When you’re hosting mobile conferences, you can view all of the participants (including their names, titles, and photos), record calls, add more callers, and administrate sidebar meetings from the conference call. You don’t have to remember call-in numbers or passwords because you’ll simply just tap to join the call. Version 2.0 supports language translation for French, German, Italian, Japanese, Norwegian, Spanish, and Swedish.


Skype. Though already a popular VoIP service for iPhone, iPad, BlackBerry, and Android devices, Skype (www.skype.com) videoconferencing is still in the works. According to a Skatter Tech report, Skype wants to introduce video calling to Android phones before the end of this year. Skype features free calls to other Skype handsets, global calling, instant messaging, and “always on,” which saves you from using wireless carrier minutes. ▲

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