Are Free Conference Calls Really Free?

As any business, you are likely always looking for ways to cut down on costs and make your business operations as inexpensive as possible in search of maximum profits. As a small business, self-employed person, or even an individual with personal needs for conference calling, you are even less likely to have the budget for expensive software.

This is why many people search for “free conference calls” when they’re in the market for a conferencing service. And some companies do offer free services…but they may not truly be “free” after all.

Let’s take a look at the popular question “Are free conference calls really free?” by delving into what phone conferencing services typically offer and how they charge.


How free conferencing works

The first free phone conference services functioned and made money by driving their calls through lesser-used phone exchanges in rural areas of the United States. This is why users of these platforms would often see an unusual area code when dialing into a conference, because of the exchange location in a small U.S. town. Attendees of these phone conferences would still face long-distance charges from their individual phone carriers if applicable, so they were not actually free.

Today, most people have national phone plans so they don’t often incur long distance charges for these calls, but this practice of routing calls through local exchanges is sometimes negatively referred to as “traffic pumping” and the FCC has put regulations in place to reduce it. So instead, many modern free conference services have taken all their calls online, using VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) to transmit audio digitally rather than over phone lines.

Typically, users sign up for a free conference call service that promises a basic small number of participants. Then, they must move up to different paid packages to access more features and the ability to host larger conferences. Every free conferencing service is slightly different in this regard.

Problem #1: Reliability

The main issue that users of these free conference services report is a lack of reliability. Free services that still offer use of traditional phone lines don’t necessarily have dedicated lines or the infrastructure in place to offer quality conference bridges. This can lead to frustrating unpredictability or dropped calls for many people.

If a free service offers VoIP audio only, attendees often face issues with the lower quality that comes with digital audio rather than analog. Crackling, popping, or static is common. VoIP is also subject to internet connectivity, so when callers are in spotty or crowded WiFi zones or have slow internet speeds, the audio (as well as video, if that service is offered) quickly bogs down.

These outcomes are naturally frustrating, but they’re also frequently damaging. When callers can’t hear one another and have a bad experience in important business meetings or events, that reflects very poorly on the host company’s reputation. Attendees might simply leave a conference that’s cutting out, or have a bad first impression and not continue business with a company they’re just getting to know.

Problem #2: No opportunity for growth

Free service from a conference call company simply isn’t feasible for most larger businesses and corporations, because the limitations on size and features can’t accommodate their needs. Free packages typically offer the most basic services, which means a small number of attendees allowed on a call and very little control over personalization or other features.

Even small businesses using conferencing find that their attendee base or their need for conferencing inevitably expands, as more and more employees travel or work remotely and business reaches to a national or international market. As a small business grows, they find they need a greater capacity, more support, and more features to accommodate that growth. This could include a larger number of attendees, the ability to offer toll-free numbers, or call recording—none of which are typically offered for free.

To get these things, they have to jump up to a different tier of service that is not free and may be at a very high rate, or switch to a new service altogether. This doesn’t allow for flexibility, as many feel “locked in” to a service or features they don’t really want just to get what they do need. If jumping ship to a new service, the need to change phone numbers and spend time learning a new process to join a call presents a nuisance for employees, clients, and partners that are used to communicating in a certain way.

Problem #3: Little reputation for support

A problem that is less often considered by those shopping around for conferencing services is the potential lack of customer service and support. Many people don’t take this into account until they face technical issues or need to ask basic questions about their service—and naturally want them answered in a timely manner.

Most free conference call services simply don’t have the personnel or structure in place to offer quality, on-demand help and customer service from live professionals within the company—unless you start paying. Just like when small businesses find they need to start paying for more features from a “free” service, they may also need to pay simply to get faster and better help on issues they shouldn’t have in the first place.

For all of these reasons, we at Conference Calls Unlimited recommend shopping around for web and phone conferencing services that offer more of what you deserve for your business. Fair prices on dedicated lines and quality features, with room for flexibility and customization, as well as built-in support—all offered from an established company that can grow with you. This is what we offer at our company, but don’t just take our word for it. Learn more about all the paid services out there, and simply think twice about the free ones that may not truly be free.