How to choose a conference phone

A group of people in a conference room.
(Image credit: Pixabay)

While business phones exist to connect organizations with their customers, a good conference phone serves to connect companies with their peers, clients and investors. A conference phone links multiple people simultaneously and is better suited to meetings.

The pandemic has pushed people online, and many of us are now familiar with the concept of video conferencing. Being able to remain in touch with colleagues and clients is vital, but for calls that simply don’t require a video connection, or for companies with restricted Internet access, a professional conference phone could be the answer.

Considering a conference phone’s sound capabilities 

Selecting a suitable conference phone is similar to deciding on a good video bar or a business webcam. The primary difference with a conference phone is its lack of videography features, highlighting the importance of a good mic setup.

Consider the sensitivity of the microphone(s) used in the conference phone. If you’re likely to be working as a team, multiple beamforming microphones will help to cut through the noise and pick up individual voices better. 

Remember that bigger is not always better: while a mic with a 10-metre pickup range initially seems superior to one with a six-meter pickup range, if the phone will be used in a small room a microphone that is overly sensitive is more likely to pick up unwanted noises, like workers in nearby rooms.

There are ways to combat this, though. Technology like artificial intelligence can be leveraged to cancel echoes, especially useful for multi-mic setups, while the best active sound cancellation tech can learn noises like street traffic and office chatter, helping to minimize these unwanted sounds.

Most conference phones in the 2020s have full-duplex support as standard which allows conversation to flow freely in both directions. Be wary of older devices with half-duplex support which, while allowing two-way conversation, is limited on a ‘one at a time’ basis. This gives a similar effect to a walkie talkie, rendering half-duplex systems unsuitable by today’s standards.

Previously, workers may have worked solo so a business phone with a private handset will have been sufficient. Because offices have become more collaborative spaces, a good set of speakers is key. Consider the audio output of any conference phone system you are looking at. If you’re likely to want louder sound than any setup can offer, is it able to connect to external speakers?

Conference phones for growing businesses 

Investing in a conference phone that can stand the test of time is a high priority for most enterprises, so taking the time to consider how it will be used is a good thing to do. If your business is expanding and more people are likely to be on any one call, a system that can be chained together could prove beneficial. Known as ‘daisy-chaining’, this allows multiple conference phones to be reached on the same line, spreading the microphone and speaker coverage across the room leaving fewer people feeling disconnected.

Organizations adopting a hybrid working routine may have staff working from home, the office, or any other place they can imagine. Buying a conference phone with its use limited to the office is a poor decision, however there are plenty of portable options to consider. With built-in rechargeable batteries and Internet connectivity, these multifunctional conference phones are ideal for the modern business. Drawing a comparison between conference phones’ battery lives is a good idea if workers are likely to be away from their desk for extended periods.

For portable conference phones, pay attention to their connectivity. Some models require a wired Ethernet connection, while others have support for Wi-Fi. High-end models add cellular network support so that you can use a SIM card for more consistent connection. 

Monitoring your call 

While conference phones are primarily designed to handle voice calls, many models have integrated screens ranging from very basic greyscale LCD displays to multifunction touchscreen LED options. The latter can be especially useful for a conference phone with built-in integration and support for existing conferencing systems, helping users to check the duration of their call and monitor its participants. 

Some conference phones run their own miniature operating system, or a form of a common OS like Android, allowing users to adjust the unit’s settings, store contacts and connect to external devices, for example by Bluetooth. 

For companies looking to record their calls, whether that’s for training and monitoring purposes or just for the sake of having a physical copy of what was said (useful for typing up minutes or sharing with a colleague), consider a conference phone with recording capabilities. The most versatile devices should record onto an external drive like a memory card or USB.

Being open to other options 

If a conference phone isn’t quite cutting it, you should consider what exactly you need a device for. A cheaper option, for example, would be to invest in a smart speakerphone. These connect with computers, and often mobile devices like tablets and smartphones if they have support for Bluetooth. A smart speakerphone typically consists of a microphone and speakers, helping to enhance the experience provided by a poor computing setup. 

An all-encompassing option, on the other hand, could involve exploring the route of an entire video conferencing system. The best suites layer the benefits of a standard conference with video capabilities, helping participants to process hundreds of visual and social cues otherwise missed on a call. A good system will even allow users to chat in an instant messaging format and share documents with one another.

For this, a strong professional webcam will be required. Conferences involving multiple people in the same room will benefit from a video bar, which typically consists of one or more high definition lenses, one or more high resolution microphones and some powerful speakers. Just like a conference phone, some video bars have integrated support for certain videoconferencing suites. A good multifunctional setup will likely consist of a video bar in preparation for video calls and a conferencing phone for times when a simple call will suffice.

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Craig Hale

With several years’ experience freelancing in tech and automotive circles, Craig’s specific interests lie in technology that is designed to better our lives, including AI and ML, productivity aids, and smart fitness. He is also passionate about cars and the decarbonisation of personal transportation. As an avid bargain-hunter, you can be sure that any deal Craig finds is top value!