Audio Conferencing for the Skype Generation

By Ted Stevenson

February 23, 2009

Vapps' HiDef Conferencing service is so good even Skype (the company) uses it for large-scale calls.

Skype users know that the popular application includes multi-party conferencing capability. But Ben Lilienthal, co-founder and CEO of Hoboken, NJ-based Vapps, Inc. views that as little more than "three-way calling."

If you want real audio conferencing using Skype as an endpoint, Vapps' HiDef Conferencing service can provide it—complete with the 'in-the-room' audio quality that Skype users are so hooked on—for up to 500 "simultaneous talkers," as Lilienthal put it in a recent conversation.

Indeed, when Skype itself needs to stage a massive company-wide conference (sometimes involving several hundred participants, scattered all over the globe), it uses a HiDef Conferencing 'virtual meeting room.'

Part of the reason Skype chose Vapps' solution was that they needed to have call statistics and call controls (which HiDef provides via Web portal) for these events. They also needed to accommodate callers that were using conventional phones, as well as Skype endpoints—which, of course, HiDef Conferencing does.

"Conference calling is a $4 billion-per-year industry," Lilienthal said, and almost all of it happens on phones. We're very much in the conference calling business, but we're also into enabling Skype users to make better conference calls for a fixed cost. As a percentage of revenue, [Skype use] is not a big number right now, but in terms of the future opportunity; we think the sky's the limit."

Note that he said "fixed cost." This is another emerging concept in the conferencing business.

Lilienthal explained: "If you go to [one of the big providers] and want to purchase conference calling services, they sell it to you by the minute—say, for example, 10 cents a minute. So if you have five people on a call for an hour, that's 300 minutes. You'll get a bill for $30 for that call. What we do is say, okay, here's your conference room, and it's X dollars a month."

('X,' by the way, ranges from $25 per month for a 10-party 'room' to $200 per month for a 500-party room—with unlimited access.)

This drastically changes the way businesses use conferencing, according to Lilienthal. "There are people that will start a conference at 8:30 AM and keep it open all day.—with all the endpoints being on Skype. Since we charge a subscription fee instead of per-minute, that opens up a whole new collaboration opportunity for folks.

"Primarily it's a service used primarily by small businesses—to collaborate more often, and in higher clarity," Lilienthal concluded.

As an example of a typical customer, Lilienthal offered fellow Hoboken-based SMB, Silverpoint Inc. A provider of Web design and development services for schools, Silverpoint has offices in Baltimore, New York, and San Francisco, which, in turn employ Web-design consultants, who need to coordinate daily on their various projects. Moreover, Silverpoint was already using Skype for its internal calling and IM, so a service that accommodated both Skype callers and conventional phone users was a great fit.

"We were spending almost $500 a month on conferencing alone, and our costs were steadily increasing," said Silverpoint CFO Andrew McKenzie. "Now, we're spending a flat $200 a month. And while the cost savings are great, the ability to connect to the conference line in one click with Skype—without tying up the phone lines, so we can interface with customers—is equally valuable," McKenzie said.

Lilienthal pointed out that now Vapps has the HiDef application up and running, they're beginning to add on finishing touches—"general usability stuff," as he put it. "My analogy is, we've built the engine and we've built the car. Now we're putting in the leather interior and that sort of thing."

One such touch is the Outlook plug-in that directly links Outlook's meeting planning functionality to Vapps' HiDefConferencing. The plug-in creates a 'Schedule HiDef Conference' button that opens a regular Outlook meeting invite, where users can see availability information for in-company contacts, set the conference time, and send e-mail invitations with the meeting details automatically entered.

Moreover, "we're doing things like adding 800 service," Lilienthal said; "we've added it in Australia, we'll be adding it in Israel."

As to future growth, "What we've found is that mainly, the service is spreading through word of mouth," Lilienthal said. "I wouldn't say 'viral adoption'; just word of mouth."

Article courtesy of VoIPPlanet.

Originally published on .

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