A History of a Conference Call

    Businesses have a need to allow people to collaborate on various projects, sharing ideas and opinions; this allows a business to stay connected. Conference calls have been the cornerstone of this ideal for decades now, but where did the concept begin?

    Asen Yordanoff’s Jordanphone was introduced in 1945. This device would amplify the voice coming from the mouthpiece of a traditional phone and wirelessly transmit it to a loudspeaker for multiple parties to hear. While in today’s telephony terms this can be thought of more as an external page, it was a pioneering concept of its day.

    In the early 1960s Bell Labs developed the Picturephone, and while it didn’t completely envelope the concept of the modern conference call, it did allow people to record and share images of themselves that would be sent every two seconds over three phone lines thousands of miles away to another person in California. With three phone lines dedicated to one entire phone call and the high equipment cost, Bell Labs was gambling on their hope that corporations would see this as a true need.

    Bell Labs’ concept was prophetic; they envisioned this device as a need for businesses to conduct virtual meetings over a wide geographical distance. For the residential market, they hoped this service of seeing loved ones “live” could be profitable. When put into practical use, Picturephones were too expensive and implementation was too complicated. In the end, the project was abandoned.

    Electronic switching of analog signal brought forth a plethora of new services in the telephony industry. In 1971, Illinois Bell would present a multitude of services that phone users became very familiar with: call waiting, speed dialing, call forwarding, and three-way calling. Three-way calling would allow a party on an active call to use “hook flash” (pressing the button upon which the phone rests) to allow the telephone company to present a secondary dial tone to the phone. The user would then dial the third number, and once that call was connected, use the hook flash to bring together all three audio streams.

    With the advent of digital telephony and enterprise PBX in today’s corporate environment, many strides have been made in continuing to improve conference calling. A conference bridge is a service that hosts a number of conferences, allowing users to log in to them. Conference bridges were traditionally built upon analog PBX circuits, but within an individual organization a digital conference bridge can allow users can log into virtual meetings via analog or IP phone, web clients, even apps on their smart phones. The conference bridge is typically hosted on a server, and in many enterprise organizations, is managed locally by an administrator for a voice network.

    In today’s market, features vary widely between brands of conference or teleconferencing bridges. The feature to allow video conferences alone is valuable, and careful research must be completed to determine which conference technologies are right for the organization.

    « Back to Glossary Index