A conference bridge is a software program allowing you to hold meetings using your computer or phone. They can be used with either a smartphone, regular phone or any internet-connected device with a microphone. Services range in price from free to $90 per account with features and setup requirements varying by provider.
While there are many available conference bridge services, one of the best providers for conference calling is RingCentral. They’re a VoIP phone system that requires no equipment to use, supports up to 200 participants in a conference call and offers a 15-day free trial for their conference bridge services.
How a Conference Bridge Works
Conference bridges are a single component of a larger system and work by creating a virtual meeting room that is accessible by phone or through a software program. The meeting room then assigns a separate IDs to each caller. This allows multiple participants to utilize a single phone line, provided they have the access code.
Features, participant controls and ease of setup depend on the type of service selected. Types include VoIP, virtual phone and dedicated conference calling systems. Some providers allow for unlimited callers within the conference bridge while others specify the maximum number of participants or limit access to only domestic calls.
Some services also offer video conferencing or screen sharing in addition to telephone conferencing. If your business intends to use these features, you will need a webcam, along with a strong internet connection for video conferences, in addition to the phone line.
Conference bridges work similarly to a private branch exchange (PBX), which is a system that allows multiple callers to share one phone line using traditional phone systems. However, with a conference bridge, the exchange is cloud-based. While this type of service offers benefits like more advanced call controls and video sharing, call quality is dependent on your bandwidth speed. Therefore, a conference bridge solution may not be right for all businesses.
Who a Conference Bridge Is Right for
A conference bridge is a great tool for businesses that want advanced call controls, intend to share screens or documents in real-time or want to communicate with remote teams. However, they do require a reliable internet connection and place a high demand on your available bandwidth.
Some of the people who can benefit from using a conference bridge are:
- Startups and companies with virtual teams: Many startups in today’s business world have completely remote teams; a conference bridge is a good way to emulate the same face-to-face interaction that you’d normally get in the office
- Companies with national or international vendors: Some conference call services include international access or toll-free numbers, which can be a great way to control costs for calls with multistate or international vendor contacts
- Sales professionals: When trying to reach new customers, it can sometimes be difficult to travel and get that in-person meeting; using a conference bridge allows you to hold a video conference quickly and communicate clearly with your customer
- Presenters: Conference bridges are perfect for holding webinars and group training sessions that involve a lot of people; you can have many attendees in your meeting without needing to rent a physical space for your presentation
In addition to benefits like video conferencing, a conference bridge is often the simplest and most economical way for meetings to take place. Whether it’s an impromptu brainstorming session or a formal presentation, a conference bridge allows you to connect with dozens, hundreds or even thousands of people from anywhere around the world.
Conference Bridge Costs
Conference bridge services range in cost from $0 to $90 per account, depending on provider type. It can be bundled with the cost of a business phone system, such as a VoIP or virtual phone system, or it can be a stand-alone cost if you’re going with a dedicated conference bridge provider.
Businesses adding a conference bridge solution should expect to spend the following:
- VoIP: This type of service is supported by the public internet and costs between $20 and $50 per user per month
- Virtual phone: This is a cloud-based phone system that operates on private networks and can cost between $25 and $90 per user per month
- Dedicated conference bridge: This is a downloadable app or web-based service that may offer a free service plan or cost less than $20 per month
When opting for the latter, most conference bridge services use two main pricing structures, pay-as-you-go and pricing tiers with limits on the number of participants. Some providers have fees for extra features like a toll-free calling number for your participants to call in, meeting recording or transcription services. It’ll be important to get a good understanding of the pricing structure of the provider before selecting a conference bridge.
Best Conference Bridge Services
There are numerous factors to consider when choosing a conference bridge. It can be included with a business phone system or as a stand-alone web service. You’ll need to know whether it can support the number of callers you need to have in your meetings, has added features like call recording, web controls for management and has a price that’s within your budget.
Some of the best conference bridge providers include:
Nextiva is a VoIP business phone system that offers a great balance of price, features and customer support. Along with being our best VoIP provider, it offers a conference bridge for up to nine participants as well as voicemail transcription, call recording and online portal to manage your entire account. It also offers additional bonus features like call center management, chat, surveys and a customer service team-focused customer relationship management (CRM) system.
Nextiva starts at $20.95 per month for Office Pro VoIP service with conference bridge or $50 per month for call centers. Its VoIP service also can be bundled together with chat and CRM for $35 per month to $55 per month. Therefore, it is best for businesses that need a conference bridge for a small team and also want to combine conference services with office phones, contact relationship management tools or other communication tools.
RingCentral is a VoIP business phone system that has a strong integrated conferencing service. It has an integrated conference bridge service called Glip that supports up to 200 participants in an audio/video conference and offers many of the same features as the dedicated conference calling services, such as call recording, web controls and can be integrated with third-party CRM services.
RingCentral has tiered feature and pricing plans which range in price from $19.99 per month per user to $49.99 per month per user for unlimited phone calls and 100 to 10,000 toll-free minutes depending on the plan selected. It’s best for business and corporations that want a conference call bridge with robust features, capable of supporting a large number of participants and those who want to bundle their phone and conference calling services under a single provider.
Grasshopper is a virtual phone system that allows you to switch between your business and personal number on your mobile phone easily. It has a conference bridge that supports up to 10 callers without requiring a separate conference call number. This is just one of the business phone system features that makes it our best virtual phone system, and it’s the best for the solopreneur who wants a conference bridge for holding group calls with prospects or customers.
Grasshopper offers three pricing plans which range between $29 and $89 per month for one to five numbers respectively. There is also a $25 activation fee, although that can be waived as part of a promotional offer.
FreeConferenceCall.com is a dedicated conference bridge service and the service we highly recommend. It provides a conference bridge to use at no cost and includes web management, call recording and calendar integrations. It also allows users to host online meetings for free, making it the best service for a solopreneur or startup on a budget and is our best free conference call service.
FreeConferenceCall.com has great features for free but also offers a premium service, which allows conference call attendees to dial in without a PIN as well as customized greetings. It also includes custom hold music, a toll-free number and extra storage for $6.95 per user per month.
UberConference is a dedicated conference bridge service that is free for up to 10 participants. In addition to phone conferencing, UberConference allows for screen and document sharing and will call participants rather than requiring them to call in, keeping everyone on schedule. This makes it a great service for small teams that want to automate their conference calls.
UberConference also offers a premium business plan which costs $15 per user per month. This plan includes the same features as the free plan, but allows for up to 100 participants per call as well as international access, custom hold music and does not require PINs.
Conference Bridge Features
Whether you choose a VoIP, virtual phone system or a dedicated conference bridge service provider, there’ll be a wealth of features available for you to set up and manage your conference calls easily. Audio and video recording along with and playback, the ability to transfer control to other users and sharing your desktop for presentations are just some of the features that you can find with a conference bridge.
Some notable features of a conference bridge include:
Number of Callers
There are some providers that support a maximum of 10 callers on a conference bridge like Grasshopper and others like RingCentral that support as many as 200. As you search for a conference bridge service, you’ll need to make sure the service you select can host the number of callers that you’ll need for your business at any given time.
With some conference bridge services, you can host and control the meeting entirely from your phone and others, like Nextiva, which give you the flexibility to control your entire account with an online web portal. The web-based controls typically give you the ability to know who is logged into the conference bridge, mute callers, record the meetings and even secure the call with a specific access code so that no one else may join your meeting.
Most conference bridge services offer call recording. It can be included in the cost with some providers while others charge a premium fee for recording. In addition, some providers will allow you to download the recording to either your desktop or mobile device while others allow you to playback your recordings and save them online.
Many conference bridge services have their own softphone mobile app. This gives the host and participants of the meeting easy ways to join your conference calls and participate in discussions without needing to be in the office.
How to Set Up a Conference Call Using a Conference Bridge
Each provider will have their own specific instructions for the initial setup and installation of the software. However, once installed and configured, setting up conference calls using a conference bridge program is usually as easy as scheduling the call, sending out invitations, specifying a person to act as a call host and then initiating the call at the specified time.
To set up and host a conference call, most services follow the steps below:
1. Set the Date & Schedule the Call
Conference bridge software often includes an online portal for call scheduling. If this feature is offered by your service, log on using your account details. If your service does not include this feature, you may need to adopt a practice of scheduling calls using a shared calendar service like G Suite. This will ensure that conference calls do not overlap.
A service with a conference bridge portal will also usually provide a phone number and access code for your attendees. Much like business phone numbers, it can either be a local or toll-free number for the conference.
Once your call has been scheduled, you should send an invitation to attendees being sure to highlight conference call number and any access codes or international numbers. While you can send this invitation from your favorite email client, some services will even allow you to send the calendar invitations directly from the portal.
2. Host the Call
Each conference call should have an assigned host. This is the person who is responsible for initiating the conference call and will have access to participant controls like muting or call recording. Some conference bridge services place other callers on hold until the host officially starts the meeting while others allow callers to have conversations in a virtual waiting room until they are joined by the host.
3. Run the Meeting & Record for Later Use
Once the meeting is underway on your conference bridge, you’ll get a variety of control options for managing the conference. With some providers, you can initiate call recording and most typically give you the ability to mute users, share your screen or give control to other users for presentations.
Pros & Cons of a Conference Bridge
Conference calls should be quick and easy and are a great way to ensure clear and concise communication between employees in a business. There are clear benefits to using conference bridges for communication like being able to collaborate efficiently, but there are drawbacks as well.
Conference Bridge Pros
Some pros to using a conference bridge Include:
- Multiple parties can participate in a discussion: If you need to hold a discussion with more than one person at a time, you can use a conference bridge to get as many people as you need on the phone together to hold your conversation
- Conferencing without the wait: You can set up a conference call at any time that works for you or your team; there’s no need to schedule meeting rooms or find a location for participants
- Remote participation: It allows people to participate in conversations when they can’t physically make the meeting
Conference Bridge Cons
Some cons of using a conference bridge service include:
- Call quality: The type of phone used and the strength of the internet connection affects the quality of the call
- Lost productivity: Being able to set meetings at any time can lead to having too many meetings that result in reduced productivity
- Availability of remote employees: While conference bridges are great for team communication with remote employees, with employees around the world, coordinating meeting times can sometimes prove to be a challenge
Alternatives to Conference Bridges
The benefits of a conference bridge definitely outweigh the drawbacks for small businesses. Between VoIP, virtual phone and conference bridge service providers, there are many alternatives to the popular conference bridge services that don’t necessarily have the cons discussed above.
Some of the best alternatives to a conference bridge include:
Skype is an instant messaging app and service that provides online text messaging or group messaging. It also provides video and audio chat services for individual and group conversations.
Hangouts is a messaging app that lets you send and receive messages, photos and even start video and voice calls. Your calls and discussions can be held one-on-one or with a group of participants.
Slack is a real-time messaging app that allows you to hold conversations with individuals, groups and keeps all your communication in one place. It provides free voice and video calls that can be made with individuals or groups of team members.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Can I Use a Conference Bridge Without an Internet Connection?
Yes. You won’t be able to conduct video calls without an internet connection. However, many conference bridge service providers will provide a standard phone number that can be called from your home phone or mobile phone to access the conference bridge. There will typically be an access code so that only approved users can join the call.
Do I Have to Install Software or an App to Use a Conference Bridge?
Not always, and this will vary greatly by provider. Some conference bridge service providers are completely web-based, and all that’s needed to connect to the conference bridge is a microphone on your computer. Others will have some software that will need to be downloaded and run in order to get the full benefits of the conference bridge.
What’s the Difference Between a Conference Bridge and a Conference Call?
A conference call is a feature on your business phone line that requires you to call other participants and add them to your current phone conversation. While a conference bridge allows people to call, a central phone number to join a meeting.
The Bottom Line
Whether you’re a startup or a large business, a conference bridge is a terrific tool to help your business communicate and collaborate. You can use a PC, mobile phone or home phone to conduct and participate in conference calls. VoIP and virtual phone systems make it easier than ever to set up a conference bridge and connect people across the world as easily as if they were in the same building.
One of the best conference bridge service providers is RingCentral, a VoIP service provider. It supports up to 200 users’ phone and video conference calls as well as your office’s day-to-day phone calls without requiring additional software. There are multiple price plans for different business needs, and it provides a 15-day free trial.