Make Free Calls Through Your Computer
What are the pros and cons of internet phoning? And is it worth it?
OK, so you’ve got a family member who’s emigrated. Or maybe you have a colleague overseas, or going to the Olympics, and you want to keep in touch. You might even have a lot of family overseas and the cost of frequent calls to them is potentially huge.
And you’ve heard about this idea of calling people through your internet connection. It’s on the whole time so why pay extra for voice calls when you could be using the same network that’s already active?
That’s the simple argument and it really can be that straightforward. If you already have a broadband internet connection and a computer with a microphone and speakers, then downloading Skype for either the PC or the Apple Macintosh will allow you to talk to other Skype customers free of charge. (no kidding; a family member is indeed in Beijing, working on the technical backup for the Olympics, and talking to him costs me nothing).
The problem about using Skype is that, unless you buy a Skype mobile, you end up tied to your computer most of the time. This isn’t the case with the competition – Tesco internet gives you a little box to attach to the wall, as do BT and Vonage, so that you can use your existing phone as your internet phone.
BT has had the foresight to extend the box so that if your internet connection falls over it’ll connect straight to your phone line as usual. There are subscriptions involved in either of these, so you should weigh up the costs of switching carefully. The trick is to look at your existing phone bill, then look at the call costs of your internet provider. How much would you save by switching – and much would any subscriptions cost?
Don’t forget you might already have internet-phoning installed on your computer. Apple computer users who only want to talk to other Apple customers will be able to use iChat which, like Skype, includes video conferencing if you have a camera on your computer and which, like Skype calling other Skype customers, is free to use.
Mobile internet Phones
If you have a new mobile phone that enables WiFi, then it can also be worth looking at software like TruPhone, which adds internet calling to (for example) your shiny new iPhone. If you call abroad a lot on your mobile, then it will cost you a great deal less on an internet phone. Your friends and family won’t even have to learn a new number.
Think also about texting which can be expensive when you’re sending abroad; Vyke Communications uses your phone’s internet connection rather than a mobile network to get this running.
Don’t Be Tempted!
One thing: watch those little additions it’s so easy to convince yourself you need. While writing this piece, I was mailed by Skype’s public relations office, pointing to new accounts from Skype that enable people to call outside the Skype network, which were pretty good value (starting at £6.95 a month for unlimited landline calls which, if you’re calling a lot, will save loads). They also pointed to headsets and webcams people could buy to make calling a better experience.
Well, yes, but not if your objective is to save cash. The webcams cost £40 and the headsets £70 – and they’re good quality, and if you’re really going to want video calling and your computer hasn’t got a camera and microphone built in, don’t let me put you off.
But how many calls would you need to make before you get that £110 back in savings? My guess is quite a few. And you’re still tied to the computer.
Yes, there are handsets available that will run Skype and other services independent of the computer, costing around £75. There is also a Skypephone/mobile phone from 3 at £39.99. No doubt, these handsets will be very shiny and fun to use. But again, if financial savings are your sole motive, then look at how long it’s going to take before your investment pays off.
Not that it can’t be done. Friends who regularly make international have told me about phone bills of £300 being slashed to £100, in which case the more flexible handset was the proverbial no-brainer.
Overall, I’d say internet phoning is certainly worth considering, but before you jump in, make sure you look at the set-up costs and your likely calling patterns in the future.
If you've ever used internet phoning, and would like to share your experiences with other Fools, please post in the comments box below!