Lucid Meetings is a sophisticated technology platform for running excellent meetings with your (remote) team and clients. The platform addresses three significant pain points for the modern meeting organizer:
- How do I create a shared meeting experience when people are not in the same room?
- How do I run meetings that consistently get results and favorable reviews?
- How do I manage all the audio, video, and screensharing technology needed for online meetings?
We write regularly about "meeting best practices" that address the first two points, focusing quite a bit on soft skills and organizational methodology. In this post we're taking a different tack by looking deeply at one of the technology issues in point three: managing the conference calling requirements for online meetings.
Conference calling, or getting everyone on the same phone call, is considered the baseline expectation for online meetings. In the absence of any other communication technology, people expect to "get on a call" and talk to each other using the telephone. This is typically done by using a conference calling service such as Turbobridge (or one of the many others).
Fortunately the Lucid Meetings technology platform comes bundled with built-in conference calling, powered by Turbobridge and extended to work seamlessly with our web-based collaboration platform. The Lucid Integrated Audio solution is a one-stop, universal solution for the audio portion of your online meeting.
Basic Calling Requirements
- Free toll calling in the U.S.
- Free VoIP audio via software-based phone
- Free VoIP audio via web browser
- Legally compliant call recording
- Facilitator controls for mute, hangup, etc.
Advanced Calling Requirements
- Affordable toll-free calling in the U.S. and Canada
- International calling support
- Detailed billing records
Lucid Technical Extensions
- Separate phone bridges for toll vs. toll-free
- Automatic creation of new conference bridges
- Automatic creation of user-specific access codes
- Reuse of previously created conference bridges
- Ability to revoke access to existing bridges
Lucid Collaboration Extensions
- Automatic instructions for meeting invitations
- Ability to predefine suggested country numbers
- Automatic attendance tracking for callers
- Ability to associated anonymous callers with attendees
Basic Calling Requirements
The basic calling requirements supported by Lucid Integrated Audio services are informed by our experience with Lucid Meetings customers over many years, along with our prior decades long experience serving the needs of national and international standards committees.
One thing we've learned for sure: people want a bevy of features and they want all the calling options at their disposal!
1. Free toll calling in the U.S.
While computer audio is all the rage today, sometimes you just need a phone number you can dial. Perhaps you're traveling and don't have access to a reliable network (think: hotel networks or other public networks), or perhaps you're in a car or otherwise away from your computer. A traditional phone number is generally the most consistenly reliable way to connect to a conference call.
Sidebar: What is Toll Calling?
""...any telephone call involving a higher base rate than that fixed for a local message."
Generally speaking, any per-minute charges for toll calling are paid by the person who makes the call (i.e., dials the phone number). When calling into a conference bridge, each participant may incur charges on their personal phone bill, but (for U.S. calls via Lucid Integrated Audio) the provider of the conference bridge will not incur any charges for received calls. Thus the audio cost burden falls to the meeting participants, rather than the meeting organizer.
With the advent of free nationwide calling plans across the U.S., paying for toll calls is less of an issue today. Still, offering toll-free calling (see below) is a common courtesy when inviting customers or prospective customers to a conference call.
The Lucid Advantage
All Lucid Integrated Audio bridges come with two toll numbers, each in different area codes, with separate connections to the public telephone network. Call quality is important and we find that occasionally one toll number will outperform the other, depending on the specific call routing for a given day. Both toll numbers are automatically included in the standard meeting invitation email and presented in the meeting software as calling options.
2. Free VoIP audio via software-based phone (FireRTC, Blink, etc.)
Having a toll number (or two) is a great starting point for audio, but connecting to an audio bridge via the Internet has some compelling advantages, such as better audio quality and technology convenience for the caller. The common short-hand term for connecting via the the Internet is "VoIP."
Sidebar: What is VoIP?
"Voice over IP (VoIP) is a methodology and group of technologies for the delivery of voice communications and multimedia sessions over Internet Protocol (IP) networks, such as the Internet. Other terms commonly associated with VoIP are IP telephony, Internet telephony, broadband telephony, and broadband phone service."
The VoIP protocol supported by Turbobridge (and Lucid Integrated Audio) is called "Session Initiation Protocol (SIP)."
So, when we refer to launching a SIP client, we're talking about using SIP-compatible software to connect to the conference call via your computer. This software is separate from the Lucid Meetings web software.
VoIP Software for SIP calling
In our product documentation, we discuss three software-based SIP clients to consider:
Billed as "The easiest way to call from your computer," FireRTC is a free web browser-based phone that allows you to make calls from your browser. It works very well with the Lucid Integrated Audio SIP support, and is Elise's current favorite.
Blink is "the best real-time communications client using SIP protocol. You can use it with many SIP providers, on the LAN using Bonjour and SIP2SIP free service." This is my preferred client for Mac OS X.
PhonerLite is "Easy to use VoIP softphone with profile and contact management." This is the Turbobridge-recommended SIP client for Microsoft Windows systems.
3. Free VoIP audio via web browser (WebRTC)
We offer both SIP and WebRTC connections to our traditional phone-capable audio bridges. In Lucid Meetings audio, the WebRTC audio option is called Connect via Computer.
Sidebar: What is WebRTC Anyway?
"WebRTC (Web Real-Time Communication) is an API definition drafted by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) that supports browser-to-browser applications for voice calling, video chat, and P2P file sharing without the need of either internal or external plugins."
Technically, we offer WebRTC connections to our SIP signalling endpoint (sorry had to geek out there for a moment!). The main advantage of WebRTC versus SIP is the ability to join the audio portion of a Lucid Meeting directly from the meeting browser session itself - no additional software is required. It's like magic.
There are a couple disadvantages regarding WebRTC that bear mentioning. The first and most important is that WebRTC is not universally supported by all web browsers, most notably Microsoft (Internet Explorer, Edge) and Apple Safari. For Lucid Meetings, this means that some people connecting to the online meeting may not be able to join the audio call via WebRTC. That's okay, however, because our universal approach to audio ensures that both SIP connections and traditional phone calling options are available to provide good alternatives for those users.
The other notable point about WebRTC is just that it runs in the web browser itself and is subject to any browser related issues we all normally encounter. Probably the biggest issues we see are dropped audio connections when people reload their browser windows (for whatever reason). If you're using either SIP or traditional phone calling you're insulated from this dropped audio behavior.
4. Optional call recording
Can You Legally Record Your Conference Call?
"While the U.S. federal law only requires one-party consent, many states have accepted different laws. In some states all parties must give their consent or at least be notified that the call is about to be recorded (with necessary opt-out option: if you don’t like them to record the call, you can ask them to stop recording or hang up)."
Lucid Integrated Audio includes legally compliant recording for all or part of your conference calls. You can record your entire call, or just specific portions of your call by starting and stopping the recording at any point. The audio bridge adheres to the strictest call recording laws, the so-called "two-party consent" laws, by announcing all recording start and stop events to all participants on the call.
Call Recording Consent Laws in the U.S. by State
Because call recording is a touchy subject for many people, we also provide the ability to disable the feature entirely when configuring your audio conference bridge.
5. Talking indicators, With Mute, Unmute, and Hangup controls
Lucid Integrated Audio includes a full suite of conference calling controls to help the meeting facilitator run their meeting. As a facilitator it's your job to keep the conversation moving and on the right track. If you're running into audio problems - perhaps too many people speaking at once or too much background noise (barking dogs, snoring, coffee shop) - it can be difficult to track what's happening.
With talking indicators, the facilitator can see which callers are either talking or being disruptive to the call. The ability to Mute or Hangup on a caller gives the facilitator the tools to manage the audio call quality for everyone.
When used in combination with the Mute and Unmute controls, organizations can use the integrated Speaker Queue to give callers a way to "request the floor" when they want to speak. For some groups, this sort of orderly call management is a necessity!
Advanced Calling Requirements
1. Affordable toll-free calling in the U.S. and Canada
Toll-free calling shifts the cost of the audio call from the caller (the person attending your meeting) to the receiver (the Lucid Meetings billing account for the person hosting your meeting).
Sidebar: What is Toll-Free Calling?
"A toll-free telephone number or freephone number is a telephone number that is billed for all arriving calls instead of incurring charges to the originating telephone subscriber. For the calling party, a call to a toll-free number from a landline is free of charge."
In a business setting, offering toll-free calling usually falls under the "common courtesy" heading. In some cases it is a make-or-break feature for meeting participants.
2. International calling support via country-specific toll numbers
International calls with participants from multiple countries bring their own challenges. Some people try to use VoIP solutions, but end up having mixed success. Calling an international audio bridge using Skype, for example, might work, but we've found it to be hit or miss. A better solution, if possible, is to use a country-specific, local toll number. Lucid Integrated Audio includes a large set of international calling numbers for your convenience:
Sample Configuration Screen for International Numbers
3. Detailed call and billing records
With the addition of audio charges related to toll-free or international usage, you'll need a way to audit your phone charges for accuracy. Lucid Integrated Audio includes detailed call records for all calls, with information about who called, the call method (US or per-country toll, US/Canada toll-free, VoIP), the call duration for each caller in a meeting, and the total audio cost for the entire meeting.
Related: Meeting Software Costs Calculator
Lucid Integrated Audio Extensions
The Lucid Integrated Audio solution goes beyond both the basic and advanced requirements to provide a complete audio solution designed specifically for online meetings.
1. Separate phone bridges for toll vs. toll-free and international (cost control)
When you enable the Lucid Integrated Audio service, you choose whether you want to offer toll-free and international calling, or whether you'd like to stick with US toll only. With US toll calling, your audio calls are entirely free - an important feature for many organizations.
To make this decision easy, you can create separate audio bridges, one with toll-free enabled and one without. When you setup your meeting, choose the audio service that's appropriate for the type of meeting. And don't worry too much about the setup - you can always switch between the options later.
2. Automatic creation of new conference bridges (automated resource management)
Lucid Integrated Audio bridges support multiple calls at the same time by automatically creating and allocating unique Conference ID codes as necessary. A Conference ID is the unique code assisgned to the audio call for a meeting. Does your organization need to conduct several meetings at the same time? No problem - the Lucid Meetings audio configuration takes care of this for you.
3. Automatic creation of user-specific access codes (automated attendance)
Every Lucid Meetings attendee has a unique, system-assigned User ID code for the audio call. When dialing into the audio bridge, the caller is prompted to enter their User ID for automatic identification and attendance tracking. With Lucid Integrated Audio you'll always know who is in the meeting and on the call.
4. Reuse of previously created conference bridges (predictability)
People like consistency and predictability. Reusing the same Conference ID for a series of meetings falls into this category. Despite the use of dynamically assigned Conference IDs, the Lucid Meetings audio configuration strives to reuse the same Conference IDs to the greatest extent possible. It's a little thing, but it matters to some people.
5. Ability to revoke access to existing bridges (long term security)
The flip side to reusing Conference IDs is that they can be long lived and take on a life of their own. When a Conference ID has been in use for a while, people may share it or pass it around to others who shouldn't necessarily have access to your conference calls. If you need to invalidate your old Conference IDs you can do that via the Lucid Meetings audio configuration.
1. Automatic instructions for meeting invitations
The Lucid Meetings platform includes a full calendaring system for creating meetings and notifying people about those meetings. The notifications are sent via email as meeting invitations, with the full agenda, calendar attachment, and calling details included in the email. When you use the Lucid Integrated Audio service, all the calling instructions, including the phone numbers, Conference IDs, and user-specific IDs are automatically inserted into the invitation.
2. Ability to predefine suggested country numbers in invitations
Rather than trying to fit all the international numbers in the invitation email, the Lucid Meetings audio configuration provides a method for you to predetermine which numbers should be included. If you want to include them all, go for it! But if you only need the numbers for Australia, for example, opt to have those numbers in your invitations and leave the others out.
3. Automatic attendance tracking for callers
See above! When you use Lucid Meetings we automatically produce a full record for the meeting, including who attended the session and how they participated. Attendance can be set by attending the online meeting, by joining the audio call, or can be marked manually by the facilitator.
4. Ability to associate anonymous callers with expected attendees
While we do prompt callers to enter their User ID, this is not required to actually join the call. If someone opts to skip this prompt we show them as an anonymous caller, unattached to any of the invited participants. If the meeting facilitator can determine the caller's identity then he or she can link the caller to the attendee record during the meeting.
And if you have an anonymous caller that you can't identify, then simply hang them up and let them redial with a proper User ID.
Running excellent meetings takes a lot of work, and Lucid Meetings automates that work. Part of the automation we provide comes in the form of the Lucid Integrated Audio technology, which seeks to cover all the important and useful features you need in a universal audio solution.
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