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Technology: Ashlee Simpson And The Future Of Teleconferencing

I know, I know — what part of the upward march of humanity doesn’t depend on Ashlee Simpson? Well here’s a bit of tech that owes her a particular nod. It’s made by a new company called Vapps, and it’s the first high-speed teleconferencing technology to hit the wires since Skype revolutionized the way human beings communicate long-distance. (Photographer: Michael Caulfield/WireImage.com)

I know, I know — what part of the upward march of humanity doesn’t depend on Ashlee Simpson? Well here’s a bit of tech that owes her a particular nod. It’s made by a new company called Vapps, and it’s the first high-speed teleconferencing technology to hit the wires since Skype revolutionized the way human beings communicate long-distance.

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(Photographer: Michael Caulfield/WireImage.com)

Ashley spent Wednesday, also the final day of Hanukkah, reading The Polar Express to a group of 100 hospitalized children, most of whom weren’t even in the same state. The feat was a demonstration of Vapps’ HighSpeed Conferencing, a broadband-based teleconferencing solution that uses Skype to deliver ultra high-quality voice conferencing to up to 500 participants. It does this, I should note, at a flat rate per month, eschewing the per-minute pricing structure of the telecom companies and saving companies bags of money in the process. Using the traditional Skype program, users are limited to group chats of 4 to 9 participants, so this is a big step up for big businesses.

Listening to Ashlee (or anyone, for that matter) over a HighSpeed teleconference connection, you begin to ask yourself one question. It’s not: how did they do this? It’s not: what does it mean to want to La-La**? The question is: how on earth are we still dealing with the awful sound quality of telephones, well into the age of ubiquitous internet, hybrid cars and Coke Zero?

**For the uninitiated:

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Before we go on, I should make an admission. I hate conference calls. Hate them. They’re boring, even if everyone in your office is terrific and interesting (which, ahem, everyone at FastCompany is.)

Even if you hate conference calls, they’re a necessity. But when you talk to people on one of Vapps’ teleconferences (as when you talk on Skype between two computer users), the interaction actually feels productive, because you can completely understand what people are saying. Obviously, nowhere is this more important than business conference calls, which are already notoriously difficult to make productive and efficient.

Because HighSpeed Conferencing is computer-based, you can use their software to see who is in your conference, and invite them in with your PC. (Participants can also dial into a HighSpeed conference with a regular phone and not disturb everyone else’s high-def audio — although you’ll sound, to them, just as mediocre as a traditional phone call.)

The electronic invitations and visual management of the conference is almost as important as the quality of the call itself, especially as the logistics of group calls can be almost as tough as the issues they’re meant to hash out. If your company doesn’t do big calls, here’s a dramatization of their traditional course:

Moderator: Has everyone called in? Los Angeles, are you there?

Los Angeles: [Crackle] Yeah, we’re here, Jim.

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Moderator: Dallas, are you here?

Dallas: Howdy [Crackle] we’re here.

Moderator: Tulsa, are you here? ….

Moderator: Tulsa?

Moderator: Ah, sh*t.

When you can see who’s in your conference, and actually hear more of the range and timbre of the voices on the other end of the line, you can actually have a collaborative discussion where people jump in, make comments and pose questions (because you can understand them, and tell, by voice, who’s speaking). This is a great thing.

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Don’t get me wrong; few people will go to sleep at night thanking God for Vapps. But it’s one of those crucial and long-awaited uses of technology for pragmatic, if unglamorous, purposes that could make life in the office just a little easier.

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About the author

I've written about innovation, design, and technology for Fast Company since 2007. I was the co-founding editor of FastCoLabs.

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