Conference Calls 101

Do you have the urge to speak to more than one of your friends at a time to share exciting news? Are there times you're not in the office but need to talk to your business associates? Speaking to two or more people at a time is what is commonly known as a conference call or three way calling. While there is more than one way to do this on your device, this 101 will focus on dialing each person separately and joining them together in one call.

Maximum number of lines allowed

While BlackBerry smartphones are able to connect multiple calls together, the number of lines allowed depends on your carrier. CDMA networks (Verizon, Sprint, Bell Mobility) only support three-way calling which means you can only connect to two additional parties. On the other hand, GSM networks (AT&T, T-Mobile, Rogers) allow up to five parties including yourself.

There is just one tiny thing you need to be aware of. You will be charged the minutes for each call or party connected. For example, let's say you connect to two of your friends and speak for fifteen minutes. As you are on two calls at the same time your plan is billed thirty minutes.

Dialing and joining calls

To start, dial your first party or participant. When the call connects, press the menu button and select Add Participant or New Call to bring up the phone application. OS 6 users can also tap or scroll to the option on the display. In the meantime, your first call is put on hold.

Add a participant

From this screen you can manually enter in a number, choose a number from the call log, or select a name from the contact list and then press the green send key.

When that new call connects, tap Join on the display or select Join Conference from the menu option to link all the callers together (including the ones on hold). Repeat these steps for each additional participant.

Joining a conference call

Handling conference calls and carrier limitations

If you're the person who joined the calls together, congratulations you are now the call moderator. On certain carriers this grants you additional functionality. This means you can split the call to speak privately to a contact, swap between conversations, and drop anyone on the call.

Thanks to some guinea pigs, I mean friends and family, I tested on CDMA and GSM wireless providers. However, conference calling on CDMA differs from GSM (much to the dismay of yours truly while putting together this 101). The good news is these features work on GSM. Bad news is they are limited or unavailable on CDMA. For example, VZW customers can't drop calls or join one call on hold with one currently in progress like AT&T. On the bright side, they do let you use the green send key to join calls.

For carriers that support these features, here's a quick rundown of what you need to know.

Drop calls

Speaking from experience, sometimes you come across that one person who always forgets to hit mute. You either hear their on-hold music or whatever is going on in the background. This can be annoying and distracting. As moderator you can easily disconnect them before they become a problem. 

Press the menu key and scroll to Drop Call. Select the caller to remove and they'll be gone in a flash. Now the rest of you can finish the call without further interruption.

Dropping a call (on purpose)

Split calls

Splitting the conference call to speak to one person is pretty simple. All you need to do is press the menu key, scroll to Split call, and choose the contact you wish to speak to from the popup box. Their name should appear on your devices' screen. To return to the conference call tap Join on the display or select Join Conference from the menu options.

Splitting a call

Swap calls

Once you've split the call it's easy to swap back and forth between the two conversations. This also applies when speaking to one person with another on hold. Simply press the menu key and select Swap or tap the option on the display. At anytime you can rejoin the conference call by following the directions above.

Swapping calls

Now that we know how to arrange a conference call, the question of the day is how will you use this feature? Will you stay connected to family and friends? Close a deal? Put out some fires at work? For me, I rearranged my supervisors' entire trip and flight itinerary on the train home. Share your story in the comments below.

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