News Article: Telespan, January 17, 2005 – FreeConference.com

TeleSpan’s 2005 Predictions

Here’s what I think!

Elliot M. Gold, Publisher, Electronic TeleSpan

TeleSpan’s Prediction #1:

Freeconference.com grows to 4% of North American market by 2007

Out of nowhere, Freeconference.com has grown to 2% of the North American service bureau market (Electronic TeleSpan, November 8, 2004, p. 4). While many feel TeleSpan is nuts to even write about Freeconference as its calls are “free,” you have to begin to ask yourself: How much difference is there between “free” and 1.78 cents a minute, a rate I’ve seen from an auction for toll-free automated voice calls? On top of that, we’re seeing folks bolting from North American service bureaus and going to long-term hosted agreements, like IBM going to Avaya/Spectel, Latitude customers moving toCisco/Latitude, and Oracle leaving Raindance to manage its own calls internally. Based on Freeconference.com’s market share today, I’m predicting it could double that share by 2007.

Just a note to those who have figured out Freeconference.com’s business plan, and how it actually does make money on those “free” calls. You might think that current regulatory trends could hurt Freeconference.com’s business plan. Just remember how slow the regulatory process is and how full of holes it is, before you conclude that I’m wrong.

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Reprinted from the January 17, 2005 issue of Elliot Gold’s Electronic TeleSpan, with permission.

TeleSpan is published as an electronic bulletin 40 times a year for $377 prepaid. TeleSpan will license the right to make copies upon request. For subscriptions, contact TeleSpan at +1-626/797-5482, or email us (info@telespan.com), or visit our website: http://www.telespan.com

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FreeConference.com News Article: Telespan, August 30, 2004

Freeconference.com reports 35% sequential growth in minutes, nearly double year over year, and adds call recording using MP3 files

Chugga, chugga, chugga… it’s like The Little Engine That Could.*

Freeconference.com, about which many in the industry have their doubts, came through once again with growth at or better than the rest of the industry. For the second quarter, Freeconference.com reported year-over-year growth of 94% and sequential growth of 7%, when measured in terms of conference call minutes. That compares to results I reported in last week’s Electronic TeleSpan (ET, August 16, 2004) from Raindance, which reported year-over-year growth of 25% but negative 1.5% growth sequentially, Premiere, which reported year-over-year growth of 36% and sequential growth of 8.6%, Genesys, which reported 6.4% year-over-year growth, and eked out 0.3% sequential growth (ET, August 16, 2004 ), and as I report elsewhere in today’s Electronic TeleSpan, ACT, which announced year-overyear growth of 17% and sequential growth of 3%.

For the second quarter, Freeconference.com reported just over 64 million minutes, or just over 1% of the global market as a whole. Toll-free 800 minutes, which generate $.10 a minute, made up just over 2% of Freeconference.com’s minutes for the quarter.

Call recording now available, playback over the phone

Freeconference.com announced that it has added a digital recording option for customers, allowing them to record their toll-free 800 calls for $10, and then distribute the recording as an MP3 file to an unlimited number of folks for free for up to 10 days, other than the cost of the POTS call. Customers can pay to have that 10-day limit extended. The calls in for the recorded call are password protected.

For the last financial story on Freeconference.com see ET, May 3, 2004 p. 1.

* The wonderful children’s book by Watty Piper, George Hauman, and Doris Hauman. The kids used to read it to me all the time!

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Reprinted from the August 30, 2004 issue of Elliot Gold’s Electronic TeleSpan, with permission.

TeleSpan is published as an electronic bulletin 40 times a year for $377 prepaid. TeleSpan will license the right to make copies upon request. For subscriptions, contact TeleSpan at +1-626/797-5482, or email us (info@telespan.com), or visit our website: http://www.telespan.com

 

News Article: Chicago Tribune, August 8, 2004

“Teleconferencing spurs more excited talk”

By Jon Van
Tribune staff reporter
Published August 8, 2004

The teleconferencing surge that took off after Sept. 11 as an alternative to business travel continues to grow.

At Andrew Corp., for example, spending for conference calls tripled over the last year as the Orland Park company grew through acquisitions. Costs per minute are falling even as Andrew executives pick up the phone more frequently.

“With this economy, we’re trying to reduce travel costs,” said Edgar Cabrera, Andrew’s manager of communications service. “Teleconferencing is an effective alternative.”

The communication equipment supplier’s employee base has doubled in the past two years, and Andrew now has 9,500 employees spread around the world. Teams from different locations teleconference frequently, Cabrera said.

While Andrew uses teleconferencing more than many, almost every enterprise does more teleconferencing today, making that activity one of the few bright spots in a telecom industry that has slogged through three years of unremitting financial gloom.

In 2003, when most telecom industry indicators pointed downward, teleconferencing was up 10 percent worldwide, said Marc Beattie, a senior partner with Wainhouse Research in Boston.

That has been especially good news for two local firms specializing in phone conferencing because they have grown at a faster clip than the industry in general.

Chicago-based InterCall, a unit of West Corp., and ConferencePlus, the Schaumburg-based unit of Westell Technologies Inc., have both seen market share increase as the teleconferencing pie has grown.

Smaller firms have prospered in part because the long-distance companies that traditionally dominated teleconferencing–AT&T Corp., MCI Inc., Sprint Communications Co. and Global Crossing–have been preoccupied with falling long-distance rates, regulatory problems and shrinking revenues.

“A lot of independent companies have taken advantage of the troubles at MCI and Global Crossing,” said Beattie.

“They ask managers, ‘Do you really want to risk a critical conference call with a company in trouble?’ Many customers split accounts to add ConferencePlus or InterCall as a second provider where before they just used a single provider.”

At ConferencePlus, fiscal 2004 revenues are up nearly 9 percent, to $45.4 million, and total conference minutes calling are up 22 percent, said Chief Executive Timothy Reedy.

“We’re profitable,” he said, “and a handful of other independents are profitable, but a lot of companies aren’t.”

Even though more business people use teleconferencing, per minute rates are falling, so companies must trim costs to stay profitable, Reedy said.

Most conference calls once used operator assistance, but today the majority are initiated by the callers. Such automated calls typically charge about a dime per minute while operator-assisted calls are billed at about a quarter a minute.

Reedy said about 85 percent of ConferencePlus calls are now the less expensive customer-initiated type but that operator-controlled calls are still significant. “We’re always going to have some operator-initiated calls,” he said. “Customers may not need that when people within a firm talk to each other, but they almost always want it for investor relations calls or when top executives are involved.”

At Andrew, about 80 percent of the conference calls are now employees talking to one another, Cabrera said.

The shift toward more customer control may sow seeds of future trouble for the industry, said Elliott Gold, president of TeleSpan Publishing Corp., which publishes a teleconferencing newsletter.

“What the industry has done is to take the customer down the road, showing him how to do everything himself,” said Gold. “This could come back to haunt them.”

The hot new phone technology, voice over Internet protocol, or VoIP, integrates phone calls with computers and makes it easy for someone to use a computer to set up a conference without the help of a third party service.

“People in the industry talk about VoIP,” said Gold. “They’re really frightened by it, what it will absolutely do.”

Even without VoIP, the conferencing industry has cause for concern, Gold said, citing FreeConference.com, a California-based operation that enables anyone to use its Web site to set up conferences at no charge beyond the cost of making long-distance calls to its California phone number.

“We’re saying the emperor has no clothes,” said Warren Jason, president of Integrated Data Concepts, the company that operates FreeConference.com. “Conference calls are easy and they should be cheap. Companies spend thousands of dollars on conferencing when they don’t need to.”

Jason’s conferencing operation runs with just six employees. It makes most of its money selling premium service to large organizations such as General Electric Co. and the U.S. Postal Service. The free service recruits customers by word-of-mouth, so Jason doesn’t need a sales force.

IDC also makes hardware used to bridge calls together, so Jason has plenty of equipment and the ability to integrate it with his Web interface.

Executives at traditional conferencing services say they’re not worried about FreeConference.com or its business model. “The conference may be free, but participants pay for transport,” said Robert Wise, vice president of business development for Chicago-based InterCall. “Our conference calls use toll-free numbers, which most participants prefer.”

Wise said that InterCall’s staff of 300 salespeople is one reason that its business is expanding. Another reason is integration of the Internet with conference calls so participants can look at a PowerPoint presentation or other visuals as they talk with one another.

“Web conferencing has demonstrated that you can do presentations to small and huge numbers of people without leaving the office,” Wise said.

One soft spot in teleconferencing is video conferences. Both ConferencePlus and InterCall offer video conferencing and new technology makes it easier and cheaper.

But videoconferencing remains a tiny niche that shows no signs of growth, executives at both firms said.

“We do video, but it’s not significant,” said Kenneth Velten, senior vice president of marketing at ConferencePlus. “We did one the other day where a surgeon did knee surgery while others in training watched remotely.

“Cases like that or where a CEO wants to talk to all his employees are great for videoconferencing. But in most cases people just don’t see the value.”

Copyright © 2004, Chicago Tribune

 

FreeConference News Article: Telespan, February 23, 2004

Freeconference.com reports 140% growth for January: Ends 2003 with 150 million minutes of “free” calls

And their run rate is now nearly 240 million minutes a year

So who is it that said conference call minutes were flat in the fourth quarter?

“Why Elliot, it was you, Oh Crystal Bald! It was after you reported the financials for Raindance and ConferencePlus. And you hint at this in your story on Premiere Conferencing in this edition.”

Hmm, I should have looked at who’s coming up behind before I went forward with that. Freeconference.com closed out 2003 delivering 149.9 million minutes to customers around the globe, with well over 99% of the minutes being “free.” The company’s toll-free, 10¢-a-minute operation, introduced last June, delivered just shy of a million minutes for the year, growing nearly threefold from the third quarter to the fourth quarter.

What makes this all the more interesting is that the company (which has only six employees), reported that minutes in the fourth quarter grew 9% sequentially (over the third quarter), while most others in the industry reported flat or negative growth in minutes for the same quarter.

And it didn’t end in December.

For January this year, Freeconference.com reported minutes were up 140% over January 2003, delivering 18.0 million minutes of “free” conferencing, compared to its delivery of 7.6 million minutes of “free” conferencing last January.

Hear’s what I think!

Folks, if they ain’t talking to your customers now, your customers are about to hear about them. I’ve seen Freeconference.com’s business plan and financials, and yes, it’s making money even though the calls are “free.”

For earlier stories on Freeconference.com see Electronic TeleSpan, July 22, 2002, pp. 7-10, March 31, 2003, pp. 2-3 , June 23, 2003 p. 1, and September 8, 2003 pp 9-10.

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Reprinted from the February 23, 2004 issue of Elliot Gold’s Electronic TeleSpan, with permission.

TeleSpan is published as an electronic bulletin 40 times a year for $377 prepaid. TeleSpan will license the right to make copies upon request. For subscriptions, contact TeleSpan at +1-626/797-5482, or email us (info@telespan.com), or visit our website: http://www.telespan.com

 

FreeConference.com News Article: Electronic Telespan, September 1, 2003

“FreeConference.com rolls out premium toll free service at $.10 a minute” by Elliot M. Gold

Why? Because its customers asked it to.

FreeConference.com has rolled out a toll-free conference call service, booked over the Internet at $.10 a minute, and it’s making money at it (like it is with its free service). The service, which was rolled out August 1, will produce 84,000 minutes of use this month, or $8,400 in revenues.

Yes, that’s a measly amount of money, but while many in the industry are Doubting Thomases, in an exclusive interview with The Crystal Bald, I found that the company is growing at a rate that exceeds the rest of the industry.

Factoid 1: FreeConference.com did 14 million minutes (of “free” calls) in August, up from 10.8 million minutes in May this year (Electronic TeleSpan, June 23, 2003, p. 1). That’s a 30% sequential quarterly increase!

Factoid 2: FreeConference.com now has 55,000 accounts (Berlitz Translation: Customers).

Factoid 3: One of the largest newspaper chains in the United States, after doing a story on FreeConference.com, has designated FreeConference.com as its “preferred” provider for internal conference calls, and told this to its nearly three-dozen member newspapers.

Factoid 4: One of the largest single users of conference calls in the United States, one that uses conference calls to the touch tone of 30 million minutes a month, has begun to migrate its traffic to FreeConference.com after an extensive trial. In doing so, it has begun to abandon one of the largest more traditional conference call services in the United States.

Factoid 5: FreeConference.com has all of six (6) employees.

“Elliot, we found that many of our customers were looking to host conference calls, and found it inappropriate for their attendees to pay the long distance to attend,” said Warren Jason, CEO of FreeConference.com. “So we offered them the calls toll-free at a dime a minute, and they took it.”

And the competition?

Warren had some not-too-kind things to say about his competition. During the interview with Electronic TeleSpan, he related a story of how he tried to set up an account with one of the top service providers in the industry.

He went to their Web site, which didn’t show their rates, and found that he had to send an e-mail to the company asking to become a customer. In return, he received a questionnaire asking him where his office was, how many calls he thought he’d make, etc., which he then had to submit. On the third day, a saleswoman from Pasadena contacted him (by e-mail), asking even more questions.

“Elliot, after three and a half days, I still didn’t have an account with them,” said Warren. “With our service, you go to the Web site, fill out a short form, put in your credit card information, and in seconds your account is registered. When you make a call, less than 20 minutes after the call is completed, we e-mail the registered account manager a full accounting of the call details, the number of end points, the length of the call, and how much we will bill their credit card.

“This is part of my own campaign is to commoditize the conference call market,” said Warren. “There’s nothing out there now like cellular phone services where you go to a Web site, purchase a phone and the service and you’re done, without ever talking to somebody. Why do conference call services require that I take a call from a lady in Pasadena after waiting three and one half days to subscribe?”

Good question!

Aren’t you glad you subscribe to Electronic TeleSpan?

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Reprinted from the September 1, 2003 issue of Elliot Gold’s Electronic TeleSpan, with permission.

TeleSpan is published as an electronic bulletin 40 times a year for $377 prepaid. TeleSpan will license the right to make copies upon request. For subscriptions, contact TeleSpan at +1-626/797-5482, or email us (info@telespan.com), or visit our website: http://www.telespan.com

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FreeConference News Article: The New York Times, March 13, 2003

“32 Friends on the Phone: Taking Turns is Encouraged,” by Sarah Milstein

“Free” and “easy” are not words most people associate with conference calls. But FreeConference might change that.

After setting up a FreeConference account at www.freeconference.com, you can schedule a conference for up to 32 callers, and designate it as a conversation, so that all participants can speak, or a one-way broadcast, in which only one caller can speak. Participants can be notified by an e-mail message that gives them the dial-in number and access code. Calls can also be arranged on the spur of the moment. There are no time limits.

People anywhere in the world can take part, and they pay nothing other than the regular long-distance charge for calling the dial-in number.

Freeconference says it will not sell information it collects about its users. Integrated Data Concepts, which offers the service, makes money by generating telephone traffic over regular phone networks. The company provides equipment to phone companies and receives a percentage of the revenue from long-distance calls that come through its devices.

What if you want to allow callers to dial toll-free? Freeconference plans to make that service available within the next few months, for a fee.

FreeConference.com News Article:  Telespan, July 17, 2002

“FreeConference.com News Article: Telespan, July 17, 2002” by Elliot M. Gold

Ever hear of Integrated Data Concepts, Inc or TeleConnection.com? As we said in the sixties “read on!”

Actually it was “write on!” -or was it Right On!?

Just as we thought we had bottomed out in our prices this summer, with automated voice conference calls being quoted at $.09 a minute and below, a company comes along and offers ad hoc reservationless calls, or Web-reserved calls, for nada, zip, zero, at $0.0 a minute. No strings, no “zero interest this year next year or ever,” no “nothing to pay until 2000-ever.”

It’s not a promotion, folks. There’s a company out there now giving it away for free.

And, with virtually no publicity, it’s got 10,000 registered accounts (and scads more customers), who are churning through three million minutes a month of free, clear, easy-to-use conference calls.

I tried it myself-took me 90 seconds to get an account, and another 60 seconds to launch a three-way call.

It took me that long, because I couldn’t think of a PIN to give out to the other two callers.

Integrated Data Concepts, Inc. (IDC) last night officially launched TeleConnection.com boasting “Free & Simple Telephone Conference Call Solutions for Businesses, Organizations and Individuals… Web-Scheduled Conference Calls or Reservationless Conference Calls.”

IDC’s Web-scheduled service allows you to pre-arrange a call for up to 32 callers, assign a unique secure PIN to the call, send out e-mails to invite callers, e-mails that can in turn populate their Microsoft, Lotus, or other calendar software to remind them to call into a pre-arranged toll-bearing phone number (remember I said that). For the reservationless service, you can do the same, but for up to 96 locations. Call lengths are virtually unlimited.

And if you want security, as a call moderator you can register for and receive a unique second PIN, which gives you a dozen more security options such as locking the call, playing a chime when callers come in or go out of the call, reporting the number of persons on the call, muting, and more.

“Okay, ol’ Crystal Bald,” you say, “cute, but 1) there’s got to be a catch, 2) this has to be some start-up company making it up as a promotion, 3) they have to pay for their infrastructure, bridges and T1s, and 4) where are they getting the equipment from anyway?… I never heard of them.”

First-there is no catch

IDC has been testing the service since September 2001, and been offering it since the winter. The service grew from 576 accounts and 140,000 minutes of use in September last year to 3,700 accounts and 1.2 million minutes of use in February to 10,000 accounts and 3.0 million minutes a month in June. It’s always been free.

I’ve known about the service for three months now, but agreed not to disclose it until IDC was ready. Maybe some of your customers knew about it too, and have been testing it, too.

Second-IDC is not a start-up, it’s been around since 1985

IDC was founded by Warren Jason 17 years ago to manufacture telephone gear, in particular boxes that provided interactive voice response (IVR) systems, voicemail, entertainment (open forum and voice chat services) and consumer and business conferencing to others. The company is privately held, has no debt, no venture capital or outside investors.

Third-IDC doesn’t have to pay for infrastructure

Warren explained. “We have an existing telecommunications infrastructure that’s in place and developed over the past 15 years.

That keeps our costs extraordinarily low, and we use excess capacity from this telecommunications infrastructure to service the business and consumer conference calls.” The infrastructure Warren is talking about is built around IVR systems he’s sold and installed around the world, which are used by others for “telco related voicemail and other interactive telephony applications.”

The IVR systems are IDC’s bridges. In the United States, IDC has them in Baltimore, Boston, Buffalo, Los Angeles, Miami, Philadelphia, Rochester, San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland, Orlando, Utah, and Washington DC. Outside the US, IDC has bridges in the UK, Germany, and three Caribbean countries.

Fourth-IDC makes and sells its own bridges

IDC has 5,000 of its own ports deployed around the world for conference calls, built on bridges it made itself. The bridge, really the IDC9240 Interactive Voice Response System, sells for $168,000 for 240 ports, or about $700 per port. “And it’s made right here in Hollywood!” said Warren. He claims to have sold “hundreds of them.”

Warren’s worldwide staff? Six people.

What’s next for IDC? International expansion and Web conferencing

Warren told me that IDC routinely gets feedback from users of the service in Australia and in Brazil, where they often complain that the high cost of conference calls there drives them to use low-cost long distance to call IDC’s bridges in the US for free conference calls. As such, IDC is in talks right now to expand into Asia and Latin America.

As for the world going to Web conferencing (so they say), Warren told me that IDC is actively seeking to acquire “a rudimentary web document presentation tool to offer free with our services. We are talking to a half dozen companies about that.”

Here’s what I think

It’s a scary prospect for the industry if IDC is right. Right now, we’re generating $2 billion in services revenue from voice conferencing alone. Statistically, IDC has a heck of a way to go to erode that business. Yes, it’s up to 3 million minutes a month or 9 million a quarter, but during the first quarter this year, by comparison, ACT did 35 million minutes, Genesys did 266 million minutes, Latitude hosted 74 million minutes of the 345 million minutes its customers put through its MeetingPlace servers, Premiere Conferencing did 319 million minutes, and Raindance did 112 million minutes, just to put the 9 million in perspective.

Here’s what he thinks

Warren and I talked about a lot of things I was seeing in the last couple of weeks in the industry, the layoffs at Worldcom Conferencing, the company’s anticipated bankruptcy, the soon-to-be-announced auction of Global Crossing Conferencing, and several videoconferencing companies announcing that they “would not meet analyst expectations.”

I asked Warren if he had anything to say to the industry, knowing that.

“This has rung the alarm. Conference call service providers can no longer sustain profitability by positioning conferencing as high perceived value, high-touch and high ticket.

“Teleconferencing is successfully becoming a commodity with self-service sign-up, scheduling and fulfillment right on the Web. Now that much more complex telecom offerings, such as cellular phone service, and even handsets, are widely marketed and sold entirely on the Internet, conference call providers can no longer compete successfully without cutting overhead, simplifying delivery mechanisms and pricing for volume instead of prestige.

“For years now, even the RBOCs have been selling and provisioning enhanced services, such as three-way calling, call forwarding and call waiting via touch-tone interactive systems. It’s time for the conference call industry to recognize that the future is now and that market share will be won by companies like IDC who are ‘delivering the goods’ quickly, professionally and inexpensively.”

Don’t agree with him? Try out his service, and then decide.

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Reprinted from the July 17, 2002 issue of Elliot Gold’s Electronic TeleSpan, with permission.

TeleSpan is published as an electronic bulletin 40 times a year for $377 prepaid. TeleSpan will license the right to make copies upon request. For subscriptions, contact TeleSpan at +1-626/797-5482, or email us (info@telespan.com), or visit our website: http://www.telespan.com

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