Conference Calls and Mobile Phones – A Love/Hate Relationship

Love-HateFor those meeting via teleconference, it’s frustrating for all when a participant is inexplicably “kicked off the bridge” or can’t be clearly heard or understood. Analysis of years of conference call history reveals that there’s no mystery here – the culprit is almost always a mobile phone.

Mobiles and conference calls seem like a perfect match. You can connect from anywhere, including an airport or a coffee shop or the train. Most modern automobiles feature Bluetooth connectivity; many commuters schedule meetings during their daily drive, making productive time that would otherwise be wasted.

Those same attributes that make the mobile phone great for telemeetings can also make it terrible:

1) When you’re in motion, your call has to be handed off from tower-to-tower. Each handoff is an opportunity for the call to be dropped. Even a good handoff can result in brief dropping or garbling of audio has the switch takes place. Sometimes the result will be one-way audio.

2) Staying put doesn’t always solve those problems. Changing wireless conditions – trucks driving by outside, or new calls being initiated by other mobile users nearby – can result in enough interference that a call is dropped or garbled.

3) Mobile callers are more likely to connect from a noisy place. That makes it harder to hear them, and when that background noise is injected into the conference, it compromises audio quality for everybody. A mobile speakerphone (including an in-car system) picks up more noise and makes a bad problem worse.

4) Mobile technology always adds delay, making dynamic back-and-forth conversation more challenging. Some mobiles also inherently add a bit of distortion – usually imperceptible on one-to-one personal calls, but sometimes impeding an extended group discussion.

5) Call duration increases the chance of problems. While a typical mobile call lasts for a few minutes or less, telemeetings can stretch for an hour or more. That means it’s much more likely that something will go wrong. And if there are multiple participants using mobiles, you can be almost certain that something will be less than perfect during a lengthy meeting.

Despite all these pitfalls, accepting some compromise can be better than not having the meeting at all (or moving forward without key participants). As you plan for your conference call, keep these things in mind:

A If you can connect via a landline, rather than a mobile, choose that option. Landlines aren’t always perfect either, but they are generally markedly more reliable.
B Use your mobile in a quiet spot with good signal strength. Remain stationary if you can.
Resist the urge to use the speakerphone.
D If you get disconnected, promptly dial back into the conference. If you are still connected when somebody else drops, wait for them to reconnect.

These tips are especially important if you are a presenter or key speaker for the meeting. The transmitter from your phone to the network is weaker than the one sending in the other direction, so even if you can hear others well, they may not always hear you clearly or at all. If you are just listening to the conference, there’s less risk in using a mobile phone.

After every ZipDX conference call the meeting organizer received a summary email with considerable detail about the conference. The nature of the connection for each participant is shown.

Those who connected using a mobile phone will have /M following the access number used. This allows you to know if a problem you might have experienced is related to participants using mobile connections.

Many conference calls involving mobile phones go quite well. But you should expect that, when using a mobile phone, some meetings will encounter issues; hopefully yours will not be too disruptive.


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