Working From Home? 5 Best Free Conference Call Services for Small Businesses
Don’t settle for just any video conferencing program.
- March 12, 2020
- Running Your Business
- 13 min read
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In today’s digital world, multiple ways exist for employees to stay connected to each other and their managers — which is becoming even more important in the wake of COVID-19 as more businesses decide to let their employees work remotely for safety purposes. Conference calling is hardly new, but the way you can conduct conference calls has changed dramatically. Before a bulky landline phone placed in the center of a table was mandatory. Now, you don’t even need a phone and aren’t limited purely to audio.
Free conference call services are widely available, and small businesses can take advantage of many of their services. Whether your business has employees working remotely, or if your business has an office and other structures like a warehouse or distribution center, conference call capabilities can be hugely helpful in conducting operations. To help small businesses find the best free conference call services, Seek Capital analyzed several platforms based on factors such as:
- Caller limits: Limits on number of participants, ability to add callers once the call has been started, international access
- Call controls: Ability to share screens, mute callers, start sub-chats or discussions
- Call recording: Capacity to record conference calls, both in terms of audio and video, ability to save it on the cloud or locally, transcription capabilities
- Mobile app: Enable management and participation in conference calls on a level equal to desktop or laptop versions
To be considered, each service had to have a truly free version, not merely a free trial. They could have paid plan tiers, but they had to offer a free basic version. Here are the five best free conference call services for small businesses.
FreeConferenceCall.com is a conference bridge provider that offers a free version of its platform with individual, selectable upgrades available, rather than separate paid plans. The standard free version comes with call recording, web management and calendar integrations for up to 1,000 participants, which is much higher than the limits found with other services.
FreeConferenceCall.com is the best option for any small business that wants to have a full-service conference calling and video system without paying any subscription or per-user fees.
When you sign up for a free account, FreeConferenceCall.com emails you all the credentials you’ll need for future conferences. It emails you the conference’s dial-in number, access code and host PIN. You can then either host a conference call or host an online meeting. You’ll also get one gigabyte of free storage space, with the option to buy more.
The call limits with FreeConferenceCall.com are much more generous than other free conference call services. With this platform, you can host online meetings with up to 1,000 participants — far more than other providers. FreeConferenceCall.com can also host conferences with international participants.
FreeConferenceCall.com offers various features in terms of call control. When you are hosting a conference call, you can mute callers, make recordings and lock calls. You can set different conference modes, such as lecture, Q&A or muted.
You can also set up sub-conferences where you can break off participants from the main conference and meet in these smaller group sessions. The video conference controls include features, such as screen sharing, chat, recording and playback and drawing tools.
FreeConferenceCall.com comes standard with a conference recording feature. You can make recordings of your audio or video conference from the desktop app. Recordings are automatically saved in the online storage offered by FreeConferenceCall.com.
One downside of this is the default storage space you are given — one gigabyte — which is equivalent to about 90 minutes of video. That being said, many of the other free conference call services reserve either audio or video recording or both features for their paid plans, which is why FreeConferenceCall.com has a step up on them.
What’s convenient is that FreeConferenceCall.com has a mobile app that works for both iOS and Android devices, which isn’t too common with other free video conferencing services. The mobile app lets you host meetings, manage calls and manage account settings in the same way you do with the desktop version of FreeConferenceCall.com.
FreeConferenceCall.com covers most of the bases when it comes to free conference call features. Perhaps the main drawback concerns the online storage space. By default, it’s limited to one gigabyte of storage for video or audio call recordings when you create your free account.
Once you have an active account, you can purchase more space. Another annoying aspect is that the recordings aren’t directly sent to your email inbox after meetings like UberConference does, for instance.
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Zoom offers a wide variety of video features such as screen sharing, instant meetings, scheduled meetings and reservations, as well as private and group chats. Zoom is mainly utilized for its video conference calling features, but it does also support audio calls.
Besides the desktop version, Zoom has a very user-friendly mobile app. With it, participants can schedule and join conference calls — as long as there’s a strong internet connection.
Here’s a brief overview of the different plans Zoom offers for its conference call and video calling services:
- Basic: A completely free plan that includes the ability to host up to 100 video participants, an unlimited number of meetings and unlimited time for one-on-one video conference calls. For group meetings, the limit is 40 minutes.
- Pro: A plan that costs $14.99 per month per host. It includes all the Basic features, plus unlimited meeting duration for meetings of any size, user management and reporting, administrative feature controls and one gigabyte of Mp4 or M4A cloud recording.
- Business: A plan that costs $19.99 per month per host, with a minimum of 10 hosts required. Business includes all the features found in the Pro plan, plus dedicated phone support, admin dashboard, vanity URL, custom branding and emails and cloud recording transcripts.
With the free version of Zoom, you can host online meetings with as many as 100 participants for free. You are limited to 40-minute sessions for video and audio conference calls that have three people or more. There is no limitation, however, on the number of users and accessing all of Zoom’s other features.
Some other free conference call services have worse call limits, but Zoom’s 100-participant limit is more limiting than Google Hangouts, FreeConferenceCall.com and FreeConference.com. The limitation on call length for its free version also does put it at a disadvantage when compared to Google Hangouts.
The good thing is you shouldn’t get too caught up on being limited to 100 conference participants as a small business. To hit this limit would require 100 employees and all of them calling in individually. What’s more likely for a small business is fewer participants.
Zoom’s free conference call plan comes with the usual call controls. You can mute and control calls, turn the video camera on and off, invite new participants to join a meeting in progress, share screens and record the meeting or presentation.
When you’re reserving and scheduling a video conference call, you can easily and automatically connect to Outlook and Gmail calendars, which allows you to send meeting invitations straight from Zoom.
Zoom does have call-recording capability. However, bear in mind that with the free version, you get local MP4 or M4A recording, not cloud recording. You’ll need to step up to the paid version to get any form of cloud recording of your video conference calls. This is one area that holds Zoom back a little compared to a few of the better free conference call services available.
Zoom’s mobile app is available for both iOS and Android phones and is particularly user-friendly. If you’re a new user, you can create your account through the mobile app. Or if you’re already a user on your desktop or laptop, you can log in.
You get essentially the same features as the desktop platform as you do with the app, such as hosting and joining meetings, chatting with meeting attendees and accessing a list of all previously attended meetings.
The free version of Zoom covers a lot of ground. But some areas could use some improvement, including the 40-minute limit on conference calls — especially since there are other free conference call services that allow for unlimited meeting durations.
The 100-participant limit could be a drawback, depending on your small business needs. Not having cloud recording capability for video conference calls — just the ability to record and save locally — is also a feature that could use improvement.
FreeConference.com is a popular conference call service provider, which comes with a ton of features in its free version. There are different levels of service, including Free, Starter, Plus and Pro plans. Fortunately, the Free plan provides great capabilities that many other free conference call services reserve for their paid plans.
Once you create your free account, FreeConference.com will send you an email with your dial-in conference number, access code, host PIN, plus the URL for your online meeting room. Here’s a look at some of the key offerings from FreeConference.com.
FreeConference.com lets you hold unlimited free audio conference calls with up to 1,000 call participants and five web participants for online video calls at a time. You can also get free international dial-in numbers, which is uncommon compared to other free services. The system enables international callers from 15 different countries to dial in using a local number.
When you create your FreeConference.com account, you’ll receive a primary local or international number, the moderator PIN number for the host and an access code. Once you have these, you can use your account at any time to launch a conference or schedule one with your attendees. Call controls with FreeConference.com are fairly standard and include muting callers and screen sharing by both the host and participants.
One notable area where the free version of FreeConference.com comes up a little short is that it does not offer call recording as part of its free plan. This puts it at a disadvantage compared to FreeConferenceCall.com.
In order to unlock conference recording capability, you’ll have to upgrade to one of the paid plans. For example, there’s the Starter plan, which only provides audio recording, and the Plus Pro plans for video recording.
The FreeConference.com mobile app gives you most of the features of the desktop or laptop version. You can host a conference or dial into one. You can start a meeting on-demand or schedule a conference call. It’s available both for iOS or Android devices. Only Android devices can currently do video conferencing and screen sharing, but iPhone app capability for these tasks is coming soon.
The lack of conference recording capability in the free plan is a huge drawback. Plus, there’s no recording capability for either audio or video — another disadvantage for users of FreeConference.com.
The inability to lock meetings could be another drawback since anyone who has the conference call dial-in number can access it. At a small business, however, this likely isn’t a huge dealbreaker.
UberConference is another solid free conference call service that lets you host online meetings and conferences. The free version contains a lot of great features, including an unlimited number of conferences, screen sharing, call recording, high-definition audio quality and HD video.
The Business plan version of UberConference costs $15 per user per month, but it opens up more features that your small business may find appealing.
Here’s a look at the principal factors that go into some of the best free conference call services offered by UberConference.
The main caller limits with UberConference are that conference calls are restricted to 45 minutes with a maximum of 10 participants. Plus, PINs are required. UberConference also does not support international calling, unlike FreeConferenceCall.com or FreeConference.com.
With the paid Business version of UberConference, you can support up to 100 participants in a conference call and participants can join through their desktop, phone or mobile app. With the Business plan, there’s also international access.
UberConference has you covered on most of the basic call controls you’ll need. You can host meetings by phone, browser or mobile app — either as a scheduled meeting or impromptu.
You can share your screen, chat with participants, share documents with callers, lock your call and record meetings for later. You can invite additional callers through their email. Or you can have UberConference dial out and reach new participants, which is a cool feature.
The free version of UberConference includes a conference-call recording feature for your meetings. Once you have a conference call up and running, you can record it using Organizer Controls.
You can then save phone meetings as an MP3 file that you can download whenever you want. One disadvantage with UberConference is that the free version only has audio recording capability. You cannot record video.
UberConference offers a mobile app for both iOS and Android devices. You pretty much get all the same features and capabilities on the app as you do through the web browser version. You can host a meeting, join a conference call, see all the participants on the call and manage the conference.
The two areas that put UberConference at a disadvantage are the caller limits and the lack of video recording support, which puts it behind systems like FreeConferenceCall.com and Zoom. Many small businesses can easily reach the 10-participant threshold, which could be frustrating. Plus, there’s a 45-minute duration limit.
Google Hangouts is a free conference call service that comes with the benefits of being interconnected with the Google product suite, making it easy to sync across all devices. Your Google Hangouts account is naturally synced with your Gmail and Google Calendar, which makes scheduling meetings through this platform fairly smooth.
You can use Google Hangouts for making video calls, starting a chat conversation, making phone calls or sending text messages through Google Voice or a Google Fi phone number.
Google Hangouts is free, but where it lies within Google’s product suite is a bit confusing. For instance, you can use Google Hangouts to type chat and video chat with other Google users via their email. However, the more robust Hangouts Chat and Hangouts Meet come with the features that are more closely in line with true conference call services like FreeConferenceCall.com.
To get Hangouts Chat and Hangouts Meet, you will need a G Suite account, and the basic version does have a $6 per month fee.
You can conduct a group video call that includes up to 25 participants. The main difference between Google Hangouts and other conference call services is that Hangouts doesn’t directly provide you with a phone number.
Instead, callers usually access your meeting through a Hangout weblink that you, as the host, would have. However, you can get a virtual phone number through Google Voice and use it to allow participants to call in.
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As with most other free conference call services, Google Hangouts has call controls that you’ve come to expect, such as muting callers and sharing screens for presentations.
You can’t make recordings of audio and video conference calls with Google Hangouts. Instead, those are the kind of features that you’d find in the paid G Suite plans, especially the Business or Enterprise levels. This is a pretty basic need, so if you want video recording free and standard, you might want to check out FreeConferenceCall.com.
You can access Google Hangouts on your mobile device, whether it’s an Apple or Android system. With your mobile app, you can set up and join meetings, plus utilize your mobile phone or tablet’s camera to participate in a video call.
Google Hangouts has a couple of drawbacks. The lack of recording earns it a negative mark, and customer service isn’t available for the free service of Google Hangouts.
More significantly is that Google Hangouts is going to be superseded by Google Hangouts Chat, a secure team messaging service, and by Hangouts Meet, which is a video and voice conferencing service that allows up to 100 participants per call. Standard, free Google Hangouts is more like a platform that you can engineer into acting like a conference call service.
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A good process for any small business interested in conference call and video conference features is to start with the free version and assess if you need more capabilities. Then, decide if upgrading to a paid service is worth it.
It also depends on which free conference service you choose to start with. For example, the wide variety of features that FreeConferenceCall.com offers for free could be enough for many small businesses. However, other conference call services have paid versions that provide some very advanced features, which you may need depending on your business and industry needs.
Examine how serious your conference call needs are at your small business. Don’t sign up for a paid service just because it has tons of features. Take the time to figure out what capabilities would make sense for your business. Then, decide if a free service is sufficient or if a paid service is necessary.
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