Vapps offers Wideband Conferencing using Skype or PSTN

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Vapps offers Wideband Conferencing using Skype or PSTN

Today, Vapps will be relaunching their free conferencing service (HighSpeed Conferencing) as a flat-rate monthly service with unlimited usage. When I asked Ben Lilienthal CEO, Vapps "why the change?", Ben explained that they have gone from using a narrowband codec to a a wideband codec, offering premium sound quality conferencing that scales up to 500 PSTN and/or Skype users. He boasted having the only wideband conferencing service in the world that can scale to 500 participants and also pointed out that Skype by itself can only do 3-way conferencing. He feels there is a lot of valuable in offering wideband, high-quality conferencing. Vapps' servers perform all the heavy lifting of transcoding and muxing the individual audio streams and sending to each participant.

Starting today, the Skype client will offer the HighSpeed Conferencing plugin, which enables advanced conferencing capabilities, including the ability to mute/unmute participants, Q&A (hand raising capability), record the conference, schedule conference, drop participants, and more. Vapps has been hard at work ensuring their high definition conferencing has the ability to scale, can handle latency & packet loss, and they've added the ability to control conferencing via web APIs. All of this hard work is part of the new product launch.

Sample conference call using the Skype Plugin. Note the 2 Skype participants, plus the CallerID of the inbound PSTN caller.
High Speed Conferencing by Vapps

The pricing now involves a monthly subscription per conference room. Phone minutes are free whether you dial via Skype or the PSTN. However, you will incur any (long distance) phone charges required to call their non-toll free number. They do offer a toll-free option as well, in which case you do incur per-minute charges. Vapps told me they are working next on integrating with Gizmo, but also have plans for integrating with 3G clients, MSN Messenger, and LCS (Live Communications Server).

Interestingly, the told me online gamers have been one of the largest users of their current narrowband offering due to the excellent voice performance. I asked why notoriously price fickle online gamers would want to pay for VoIP videoconferencing when there are free services available. Ben responded by saying that online gamers will pay for performance - they will pay for good voice quality for a better gaming experience.

One other interesting application that Ben mentioned is that a lot of day traders use Vapp's service as an inexpensive "hoot & holler" service.  Dozens or even hundreds of day traders can be in a conference room and then simply by using a pre-programmed hotkey (i.e. Ctrl-F5) in Skype, then can quickly unmute their mic, say something, and then mute it again. A poor man's click-to-talk so to speak. Unlike traditional PSTN conference bridges, they can be connected for 8 hrs a day (entire workday). That's the beauty of IP - it's a fixed cost for the bandwidth. Finally, I should mention that there is also a web-based admin screen which you can use to moderate/control a conference, which you can use instead of the Skype plugin.

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