Conference calling is by no means a new phenomenon. However, the Covid-19 pandemic saw a dramatic rise in the number of people working remotely, and many businesses have continued to conduct their conferences via phone or the internet, so we can definitively say that, in 2023, the age of the conference call is well and truly upon us.
Businesses and employees often turn to some of the well-known business communication apps for their conference calls (Teams, Zoom, Skype, etc.). Still, it is also possible to make conference calls without them from an iPhone or Android mobile device.
There are different options for making conference calls from your mobile phone, which can be done directly from the phone or by using a conference calling app. Not all smartphones support the option for making conference calls directly from the phone, but most do, and all will allow you to download a conference calling app if not.
We are going to explore conference calling on iPhones and Androids, find out how to do it, and what alternatives are available if you need them.
You can make free conference calls with up to five people on most iPhone and Android handsets. If, for some reason, you are unable to make a conference call from your handset, there are several apps you can use instead.
The process of setting up a conference call on either an Android or an iPhone is largely similar, and both only permit you to call up to five people at once (including yourself).
So let's jump in and look at a step-by-step guide on making conference calls on iPhones and Androids.
How to set up a conference call on an Android phone
Setting up conference calls on Android phones that run on one of the latest operating systems is simple. However, older devices and certain network providers do not support this feature. So if you don't see any of the steps we outline below, it may be because it is unavailable with your plan or on your device.
Androids support up to five participants in one conference call (that's four others and you). So if you want to have a call with a larger group than that, you will need to use a conference calling app or platform, which we will explore in detail later.
To set up a conference call on your Android device, take the following steps:
- Call the first person you want to be included in the conference call.
- Once you have connected the first caller, either press 'Add Call' or tap the + symbol on the left of the screen.
- Then dial or select the next person you want to add from your contacts.
- You should then see the 'Merge Calls' icon, which is an arrow with two tails. Tap it to connect the calls.
- Repeat steps 2 to 4 to add more participants to the conference call.
- If you want to drop any participants from the call, select the 'Drop' button to the right of each caller ID to remove them from the conference call.
If you are on a conference call and someone that you want to add calls you, take the following steps:
- Tap Hold and Accept.
- When the call has connected, press the Merge Calls icon.
How to set up a conference call on an iPhone
As with Androids, iPhones' most recent operating systems should support conference calling. If you cannot see any of the merge call options, then it may not be supported by your network or device. You can also use Group FaceTime on your iPhone to speak with multiple people simultaneously.
An iPhone conference call allows you to speak to five people, including you. Group FaceTime allows you to speak with up to 32 people (including you) simultaneously, but you must all have the app.
The steps for setting up a conference call on an iPhone are practically the same as those for Androids.
- Begin by dialling the first conference participant and wait for them to connect.
- Tap the 'Add Call' + symbol.
- Dial in the next participant and wait for that call to connect.
- When they have successfully connected, tap the 'Merge Calls' symbol, which is an arrow with two tails.
- Repeat steps 2 to 4 to add more people.
- To remove someone from the call, tap the 'Info' button and press 'End' next to the person you want to drop.
As with Androids, if you want to add someone to the conference call which called you:
- Press Hold & Accept.
- Let the call connect, and then tap 'Merge Calls.'
Popular conference call apps
Conference call apps allow you to speak to far more people than calling directly from your phone, and they also offer many exciting tools and features to assist you with your calls. Popular conference call apps include:
- Vast conference
So let's find out a bit more about each of these options.
RingCentral is one of the most popular business communication apps on the market. The app allows users to make and receive conference calls with unlimited audio participants and up to 200 video participants.
Plans start at £7.99 per month and go up to £24.99.
Vast Conference offers several different conference calling services, including video and audio conferences, webinar events, operator-led events, international calls, and webcasting. You can run calls with over 250 participants on their custom-paid service designed especially for your business.
Prices start at $11.99 monthly and go up to $31.99 for their standard packages. However, as mentioned, there is also the option to build your own custom pack for an extra fee.
FreeConferenceCall is (as its name suggests) a free conference calling service that allows you to call up to 1,000 callers at a time. It includes features such as HD video calling, screen sharing, recordings, international support, breakout rooms, etc.
Although the app is free, you can choose to pay what you can. So, if you are a large business, your contributions will go towards ensuring others can enjoy the services too.
Webex is a great option for remote workforces and can host between 100 and 1,000 participants depending on the price plan. You can also stay on calls for up to 24 hours once you move beyond the free basic plan. The app features HD video meetings, screen sharing, breakout rooms, an interactive whiteboard, and many other tools.
The basic plan is entirely free, though limited. You can also get a started plan for £11.50 per month, a business plan for £16.50 per month, or a custom-priced plan designed to suit your requirements.
Nextiva offers a complete suite of communication tools. Depending on the price plan you opt for, you can have unlimited participants on your voice and video conference calls. Nextiva also has representatives available 24/7 to solve your network problems or answer your queries if you run into any problems.
Nextiva has three pricing plans between $18.95 and $32.95 per month. The most expensive plan has unlimited video conferencing minutes and participant numbers.
There are plenty of alternatives are available if you are unable or don't want to use your phone or a phone application to make a conference call. For example, you can use Microsoft Teams, Zoom, or Skype.
Free and pro versions are available for each platform, which will determine the number of participants and the time limit for your conference calls.
Tips for successful conference calls
Now that we know the different ways how to make a conference call let's look at some top tips to ensure your calls are successful:
- Set an agenda. Your conference calls should be focused and come with clear aims and objectives to ensure it is productive and does not go on any longer than necessary. It is easier for people to lose concentration over calls than it is in in-person meetings, and an agenda will help to ensure everyone remains focused throughout the duration of the call.
- Use mute controls. Background noise and rustling can cause distractions and can lead to the person speaking being cut off. You should begin by asking everyone to ensure their microphones are on mute, but feel free to use your executive mute controls if anyone leaves theirs on and starts making noise.
- Permit one speaker at a time. Similar to the previous point, allowing for only one speaker at a time ensures that no one's voice will be lost to someone else speaking over them. Most conference-calling apps are designed to amplify one voice at a time, so any cross-talking will inevitably lead to someone being cut off.
- Use headphones with a microphone. Headphones and microphones ensure you can hear and will be heard properly. Phone and laptop microphones will pick up more surrounding sound than a microphone connected to your headphones, so consider investing in a proper headset with audio and mic features.
- Familiarise yourself with the tools and features available. If you opt to use a conference call app, explore the platform before jumping on your first call. That way, you know exactly what to expect when you start using it, and you can use any tools and features the app has that could assist your call.
- Take minutes. There is a temptation when conference calling to record the call and use that in place of taking standard minutes. However, there are a few issues with this. The first is that a recorded file can always get lost accidentally deleted, or never actually recorded in the first place. There is also value in taking minutes as they create an easily accessible summary of the meeting, rather than skipping through a recording to find the bit you wanted.
Why can't I merge calls?
If you find you are unable to merge calls from your phone, it may be that your device or your network plan does not support it.
You can either choose to upgrade your device or contact your provider to change your plan, or you can install a conference calling app to your phone that allows you to use the platform provided by the app rather than the phone itself. If you need to make conference calls regularly, the latter is likely the better of the two options.
How many people can I add to a conference call?
Depending on the method you use to make the conference call, you can have anywhere between five and unlimited participants on your conference call.
If you choose to conference call directly from your iPhone or Android and not use an app, you can have up to five participants, including yourself.
Both iPhones and Androids allow you to make a free conference call with up to five people, including yourself. While this may suit some smaller businesses and meetings, if you want to facilitate a larger conference call with more participants, you should consider downloading a conference-calling app, such as one of the ones on our list.