24:4 (2009:12) Committee Updates: Telecom TF

December 18, 2009 at 4:53 pm | Posted in Telecommunications Task Force | Leave a comment

[Ed. note:  The following is excerpted from the fall report to the Executive Board.]

Telecommunications Task Force
Derrik Hiatt, Selden Lamoureux, and Char Simser, Chair

Charge

The Telecommunications Task Force was charged with identifying a cost-effective conference calling solution for NASIG.
 
Schedule

  1. Identify 3-5 alternatives to Netspoke including Skype and investigate functionality for conference calling. Web conferencing and webinar presentation were to be considered to aid CEC.
  2. Present preliminary findings at the fall board meeting for each provider.
     

Task Force Summary
 
Background and Discussion
The Task Force compiled a list of 18 products, 8 of which offered “free” conference calling. (See Appendix A for the complete list of products.)  Basic information about each service was noted and the list narrowed after the follow considerations were taken into account: 1) some only offered web conferencing; 2) fees for well known products (such as WebEx & Citrix) would be well beyond NASIG’s reach based on information from other colleagues or task force members’ experience/knowledge; 3) information and/or instructions about the features of the product was confusing; and 4) product only supported PCs.
 
Additional information was gathered on the following products:

Copper Conferencing http://www.copperconferencing.com/
Twiddla http://www.twiddla.com/
Skype http://www.skype.com/
FreeConference http://www.freeconference.com/
FreeConferenceCall http://www.freeconferencecall.com/
DimDim http://www.dimdim.com/
Yugma https://www.yugma.com/
Central Desktop http://www.centraldesktop.com/
Rondee http://www.rondee.com/
Free Conference Calling http://www.freeconferencecalling.com/
 
This list was further refined and the following products investigated and/or tested:
 
Twiddla
Skype
FreeConference
FreeConferenceCall
Copper Conferencing
 
Testing and Pros and Cons of Products
 
Skype (VOIP)
Pros: free skype-to-skype calls; easy to use; very good voice quality with 3 participants; nice visual “highlighting” feature to identify speaker; can text to common “white board”; also has very good video quality (but this is only available when two people are on a call); easy to use and install; has instant messaging (IM) functionality. Does allow calls to landlines on a pay-per-call or subscription basis.
 
Cons: minor confusion about number of individuals who can participate on “free” calls – 5 or 20? Some institutions may not allow employees to download a client to their machines so NASIG could opt to get the paid version (fairly inexpensive) to bring those individuals in for calls or call their landlines; are firewalls issues a possibility? Requires participants to create an account, and requires a headset and microphone or computer with built in microphone.
 
Notes:  Subscription-based is $2.95/month for unlimited calls to landlines in the U.S. and Canada. Per-call fees are about 5.6 cents per minute per caller. There are also additional features for a paid version. This task force did not investigate details of this option.
 
FreeConference (land line)
Pros: on demand or scheduled conference calling; participants call into a central number; email invitiations; simple to use; good quality; participants using Outlook can drag the email invitation directly to their calendars; up to 150 participants
 
Cons: callers pay long distance fees; organizer must indicate length of meeting: if your call goes over, you might be bumped after 3 warning signals are given; customer support is not toll free.
 
Notes: has option of setting up an 800 number which allows particpants ‘free calls’; convener pays $0.10/minute per participant plus 11.4% for the Federal Universal Service Fund Fee
 
FreeConferenceCall  (land line)
Pros: easy to use; emailed invitations to particpants; recommended by other NASIGers; call quality was fine; 96 participants
 
Cons: used twice by the task force: on first attempt, one member had problem getting rid of the recorded music; caller pays long distance fees.
 
Twiddla  (VOIP)
Pros: basic version is free; unlimited number of users;  includes a ‘group white board’ to upload and/or create documents: can draw on documents (but not edit) but has screen capture options, view & draw on web sites; has IM functionality.
 
Cons: using built in computer microphone, audio quality was poor and choppy: one task force member used built in mic and the other members could hear his clicking keyboard; does not appear suitable for large group of callers
 
Copper Conferencing (land line)
Pros: allows up to 100 participants (audio) and 2000 (web conferencing); on-demand or assisted; no contracts or start up fees; 24/7 tech support; calls are recorded for playback options and other pre- and post- meeting tools.
 
Cons: .049 cents per minute/per caller for audio on demand; .18 cents per minute/per caller for assisted calls; other paid options for web conferencing (no details received); web option does not support Macs
 
Notes: Vendor sent a proposal and is willing to set up demos. They do not offer free solutions. Task force did not test their conference calling capabilities. Currently being used by GWLA for audio calls.
 
DimDim (VOIP)
Pros: minimal set up, use emails to invite individuals to ‘instant’ meeting or scheduled one; free version allows 4 callers; inexpensive paid version allows up to 20 individuals in on web conferencing (definitely worth looking at for training/education purposes), or pro version for larger groups
 
Cons: only 4 ‘mics’ but mics can be passed around (by the presenter/initiator from what we can determine from the documentation)
 
Notes: The task force did not test this product but used comments from L.Blackwell to determine that it is worth a closer look. It appears to be most useful for web conferencing/presentations.
 
For comparison, the task force received the following information from treasurer Peter Whiting on Netspoke, our current conference calling provider:
 
Netspoke: charges .168 cents per minute (flat rate, not per person-rate as of 9/1/09) for audio conference; we get an 800 number for participants to call in to- there is a set up fee of $1.95 per call also. (They also have web conferencing for 35 cents per minute.)
 
Preliminary Recommendations
 
Copper Conferencing is more expensive than our current arrangement with Netspoke. However, it might be an alternative worth investigating should NASIG be interested in exploring web conferencing for future education/training needs if products like DimDim are deemed unsuitable.
 
The task force found the traditional land line “free” conference call options acceptable. The one issue noted with FreeConferenceCall (regarding the recorded music) has not been reported by other NASIGers who have used of the service and may have just been a one-time blip. NASIG would need to consider whether charges to participants would be a burden for them or their institutions in the current economic climate.
 
The task force recommends that Skype be investigated further and, at minimum, tested with a larger group of particpants at least one of whom is on a land line. Using Skype would require some initial coordination on an annual basis: all skype-to-skype calls require that individuals are registered, set up and confirmed as contacts by the individual initiating a call.
 
DimDim Pro offers audio and web conferencing for up to 50 people for $228/year.  Also has the ability to host 1000.  The task force highly recommends this product be investigated for web conferencing.

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