Vello's conference call technology promises an easy, low-cost way bringing people in remote locations together. However, inconsistencies in performance and problems with billing take away from the positives that the Vello service offers.
On the surface, Vello sounds like a great option for low-cost, audio-only
conference calls: a no-fuss, nothing-to-remember service that can get multiparty
conferences started quickly and easily.
However, in my testing Vello proved to be a disappointing startup fitfully
making its way out of the beta stage. My experience with the service was
plagued by inconsistent call-in behavior and consistently egregious billing
In a marketplace littered with voice-only conferencing alternatives, Vello is planting its flag squarely on ease of use. Ideally, users won't need to
know anything to join a call. To make this work, the host who configures the
conference using Vello's Web-based portal needs to input the phone numbers for
all call participants. Then, when the call is set to start, the Vello service
places an outbound call (which can appear to originate either from Vello or
from a personalized number) to all participants. Each caller need only press
"1" to join. Ideally, this means that conferences would start
promptly because everyone could join almost simultaneously.
Even if participants miss the call from Vello, they should be able to join
easily by calling Vello's toll-free (in the United
States) number. The Vello service recognizes
the incoming caller ID and routes the call to the correct conference. Only
if the caller dials in from an unknown phone number (or has caller ID blocked)
will that person be required to enter a PIN code to join the
conference. And the pin code-along with the toll-free number-is
automatically e-mailed in the form of an .ICS calendar attachment to all
participants when the conference is first created or later updated.
In practice, I found the Vello service somewhat lived up to expectations:
When I expected a conference to be taking place, the virtual room was there
waiting for us. However, both the dial-out and dial-in services were
inconsistent. For a few scheduled calls, my participants never received a
call from Vello, and on at least two occasions, when participants did not get
the call and tried to dial in, they were confronted with a faulty automated
reception service that sometimes waited more than 30 seconds before prompting
the user to press "1" to join the call. Typically, the callers
had hung up long before getting the prompt.
Vello officials claimed these errors were due to problems they were
experiencing with one of Vello's carriers during the period I performed the
initial tests-problems significant enough that they had to shut the service
down in the middle of a business day in late September. Upon request from
Vello President and COO Mark Dzwonczyk, I
extended the test period to experience the service under normal operation and,
indeed, both the dial-in and dial-out services worked as promised thereafter.
Unfortunately, the billing system had also gone haywire, and continued to do
so throughout the month and half I took to conduct my evaluation. In a
nutshell, I found that at least four conferences were significantly
overbilled. Three conferences, each under or around an hour in length,
were billed for 2 ?? to 2 ??Ã hours each. And one call-a three-party
conference that lasted only around 35 minutes and should have cost about
$12.60-was billed for a whopping 12 hours apiece for a total of $260.
Andrew cut his teeth as a systems administrator at the University of California, learning the ins and outs of server migration, Windows desktop management, Unix and Novell administration. After a tour of duty as a team leader for PC Magazine's Labs, Andrew turned to system integration - providing network, server, and desktop consulting services for small businesses throughout the Bay Area. With eWEEK Labs since 2003, Andrew concentrates on wireless networking technologies while moonlighting with Microsoft Windows, mobile devices and management, and unified communications. He produces product reviews, technology analysis and opinion pieces for eWEEK.com, eWEEK magazine, and the Labs' Release Notes blog. Follow Andrew on Twitter at andrewrgarcia, or reach him by email at email@example.com.