Let's face it: Conference calls—those unavoidable staples of business communications—basically stink in quality.
When participants use speaker phones, only one person can talk at a time, to the exclusion of all others; lots of ideas go unheard or unrecognized as a result. Due to spotty telecom and Internet connections, participants often weave in and out of conversations.
People who forget to mute their phones when dogs are barking or traffic is roaring in the background cause ire among other people on the line. God help everybody when there are more than about five people on the line.
These problems have been harassing conference call users for years, yet little has been done to improve this type of service. And with videoconferencing far from perfect, and still comprising only a small portion of the market, the need for good, HD-quality Web-based concalls is clearly there.
Outsider Becomes a Distrupter
Sometimes it takes a completely new player in the field to shake things up. This is where little-known Voxeet has stepped in to move the standards bar way up. The 5-year-old Sausalito, Calif.-based company has come up with a new, free of charge (at least at this time, anyway) voice over IP (VOIP) conference app that is everything a concall is supposed to be: easy to install, easy to use, and can be used on laptops or mobile devices—and switched in midstream from one to another, if needed. This app delivers a nonfrustrating conference call experience like no other.
"We've designed and built it with high-definition sound quality—like the best video games," CEO and co-founder Stephane Giraudie told eWEEK. "This wasn't easy."
Voxeet is a newcomer in a well-established crowd of providers that includes Cisco Systems (Webex), Citrix (GotoMeeting), Adobe, Microsoft, FreeConferenceCall.com, and many others. The privately held company released version 3.0 of its app on Aug. 19.
eWEEK did a test conference Aug. 18 with Giraudie and vice president of marketing, Kelli Negro. The result was astonishing, and eWEEK doesn't say that lightly.
Participants can sign into the app using their Google+ identity or an email address; only three clicks are required to get it installed and running. Voxeet's app then sets up the concall as if all the participants are seated around a table. In fact, the app shows a table-like image with the avatar (from Google+) of each participant at different locations at the table. Each participant speaks from a different direction, as if he or she was in the room with you. When one of the users clicks on and moves an avatar, the sound moves with the avatar to another speaker.
No Walkie-Talkie Experience Here
Voice-over problems are nonexistent. Participants can talk at will and not cut off anybody else, unlike the walkie-talkie experience of most others. There also was no static on the line. This is definitely not your father's concall app.
The app is built around the new WebRTC audio codec, which Google released to open source in May 2011. WebRTC (Web real-time communication) is an API definition drafted by the World Wide Web Consortium that supports browser-to-browser applications for voice calling, video chat and P2P file sharing without plug-ins. Google has about 50 full-time engineers working on improving the codec on a daily basis, Giraudie said.
WebRTC is supported in the following browsers—desktop PC: Google Chrome 23, Mozilla Firefox 22, Opera 18; Android: Google Chrome 28, Mozilla Firefox 24, Opera Mobile 12, Google Chrome OS. iOS as yet is not supported.
The clear-as-a-bell quality of voice transmissions using this new codec is astonishing.
Everybody on the call must have the Voxeet app already downloaded and ready to go. And that's not really much of a problem because the app is free and takes literally one minute to download and install.
Users Can Transfer Devices in Midstream
Another attribute is that users can easily transfer the in-session concall from a laptop to a mobile phone or tablet without skipping a beat.
Negro told eWEEK that "this is the type of app that will go viral. You add five friends, they add five friends, and so on. Once people start using this, we know it will really take off."
The company is aiming first at the prosumer and small-business markets, Giraudie said.
Apart from the freemium version, Voxeet will need to make some money, and it will do that by the traditional enterprise method: adding more premium services as time goes on.