Do free conference calls mean scrimping with tin cans and pieces of string? Or are there high quality, reliable options (that are genuinely free to use)?
Truly free conference calls
Over the last few years many conference calling services in the UK have marketed themselves as ‘free’ – offering a simple call-in service where no payment details are taken from the conference organiser, and participants only pay for the cost of their phone call.
However, some services can lead to extreme bill shock when it comes to paying your network provider for the phone call itself. Other services seem to be free at first, but hold back certain features unless you pay a monthly subscription or similar.
“Roll up, roll up, Get your free conference calls! We won’t charge you a penny!” A common claim, but what’s the catch?
Many businesses and organisations are extremely sceptical when it comes to ‘free’ conference calling platforms. Afterall, how many times have you been mislead into thinking something was free at first, only to realise it wasn’t actually that simple once you started using the service?
Here’s some clarification…
When it comes to ‘free’ conferencing services many can be used without any upfront cost or subscription charge. There’s often no sign-up fee or payment for setting up and scheduling your conference call. But, when the time comes to dial in, you need to be careful about the phone number you’re provided with.
It’s often the phone number you use for accessing the call that you need to worry about.
- 0800 and 0808 numbers – Are free to call from UK phone networks.
- 03 numbers – Are usually free to call because they’re included in any bundled minutes you have on your phone contract. If you don’t have any minutes, you’ll only ever pay your standard network rate.
- 084 and 087 business rate numbers – Carry two charges. A service charge and an access charge. The service charge is set by the conference provider, and the access charge is set my your phone network. Together these form your per minute rate – which can be very high, especially from mobiles.
- Mobile shotcodes – Carry a flat charge and are designed as a cheaper alternative to calling 084/087 numbers from mobile phones. However, shortcodes are not included in mobile contract minutes like 03 numbers.
Which is the best free conference call service?
We’ve compared some key features of some of the most popular providers so you can explore your options. Many of these providers market themselves as ‘free’ but as you can see, the real costs vary dramatically when you compare like with like…
|Service||Free to set up?||Free to call?||Dial-in number||Features||Trustpilot score|
|WHYPAY?||Yes – all features free.||Yes (if you have bundled minutes) or charged at your standard rate if not.||033||Calendar integration, call recording, scheduling, speed dial, name announce.||9.7/10|
|Con-Flab||Yes – all features free.||Yes (from mobiles with minutes available).
No from landlines – access and service charges apply.
|03 / 0843||Calendar integration, call recording, moderator controls, name announce.||N/A|
|Conferencecall.co.uk||Yes – all features free.||No – Service charge and Access charges apply.||0843||Calendar intergration, call recording, muting controls, name announce.||9.5/10|
|ConferenceNow||Yes – in part.||No – Charges will always apply to both numbers.||0844 / 8545505 (mobile short code)||Calendar integration, moderator controls, name announce.||N/A|
|Powwownow||Yes – but paid ‘premium’ services available.||No – Service charge and Access charges apply.||0844 / 87373 (mobile short code)||Calendar integration, call recording, moderator controls, name announce.||6.9/10|
*Information up to date as of May 2018
As we can see, the numbers provided by different conferencing platforms vary, and this causes great variation in the cost of using the service.
Although the set-up process is almost always free the charges you see on your phone bill will differ depending on which provider you go with.
We couldn’t find any ‘free’ services that provide an 0800 number for accessing the conference. This is most likely because these numbers would cost too much for the provider to support.
03 numbers on the other hand are provided by some platforms such as WHYPAY? and Con-Flab, and these offer the best bang for your buck as most UK callers have some kind of minutes package provided by their phone network.
084 numbers are probably the most common type of UK conferencing number, however these are never free to call. From mobiles, the access charges for calling 084 numbers can be extremely high and can result in very high per minute charges.
Calling from your mobile?
Avoid 084/087 conference numbers like the plague!
Just look at the access charges for calling an 084/087 conferencing line from the UK’s most popular mobile networks – and remember the access charge is only part of the full per minute rate. You’ll also pay the service charge too which is set by the conference provider.
|Mobile network||Access Charge for 084, 087, 09, and 118 numbers (pence per minute)|
*Information taken from mobile providers’ websites in May 2018
As mentioned, some conference call services provide mobile shotcodes as an alternative to dialling the supplied 084/087 number from a mobile phone, but even mobile short codes can’t beat 03 numbers, because they are always charged, and are not included in phone contract minutes.
Generally, 03 is the way to go – but check customer reviews and find out the features included before choosing your conference call provider.