How to set up a free conference call for up to 500 participants

How to set up a free conference call for up to 500 using Skype — and the participants can call in on their phone without having a Skype account: I learned yesterday that a new product has been launched that allows anyone with a Skype account to set up a conference call for up to 500 participants. I was on a panel with Ben Lilienthal, one of the founders and CEO of the 8-person firm, Vapps (for voice over applications) who explained; and said that Skype would be linking to it off its homepage starting next week.

Here’s how it works:

1. You need a Skype account.

2. You register at and get a “room number” for a call.

3. Just like the pay-service conferencing calling, the participants dial up a phone number and hear some prompts that ask for the “room number.”

4. There are lots of other features — you can have a permanent room number, monitor the call online to see who all is participating (if they’ve dialed in using Skype)

Notes: The phone number one dials into is not a local number, so if someone phones in with a cell-phone or land line, their carrier’s long distance charges will apply. If they dial in on a Skype account, it’s free. The service is free for U.S. participants in the call only. The international rates (which are low) are listed on the website.

Disclosure: I had never heard of this service and had never met Ben before yesterday. I thought it was a cool service, but thought it was a little confusing to the audience since most of them had never heard of Skype and kept thinking (like me, at first), you had to be online to use it. I especially liked that Ben’s firm has been doing this kind of thing for years for big companies (creating VoIP bridge products that enable VoIP conference calling) and have adapted that technology for use with Skype. I am not an advisor to the company, however I did give Ben some free advice. On my Treo, I checked out the availability of a URL and when I saw it was not being used, I suggested a less Web 1.0ish name for the service. By the time I got back to Nashville, Ben had emailed me to say he’d grabbed the URL. Cool. Also, Ben and his company make money from providing this free service. How they do it is for someone who understands arcane U.S. telecommunications law to explain.

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