Phonecalls can be expensive, especially if you have to pay national or international toll fees. By using your Internet connection you can make those calls for free. [First published November 2005.]
I knew it was over when I downloaded Skype, Michael Powell, chairman, Federal Communications Commission, explained.
“When the inventors of KaZaA are distributing for free a little program that you can use to talk to anybody else, and the quality is fantastic, and it’s free — it’s over. The world will change now inevitably.”
— Fortune Magazine, February 16, 2004 [Quoted at www.skype.com/company.]
That ‘little program’ is Skype. It allows you to use a thing called Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), which is a fancy way of saying ‘phonecalls over the Internet’.
What you need
You need a computer connected to the Internet and equipped with a microphone and speaker (and sound card). If you don’t have these built-in then you buy them as extra peripherals. You’ll achieve the best results with a fast Internet connection and good quality microphone and speaker, but even a dial-up connection can work just fine.
Prepare for calling
Sign up for a VoIP service, such as Skype and install the software. Exchange Skype names with your regular contacts and add the names to your Skype address book.
As with many services these days you can sign up free or pay for more advanced features. The free service includes calls to other Skype users; you pay extra to be able to call regular phone numbers.
Make a call
The main Skype window shows which of your contacts are online. To make a phonecall double click a contact’s name. After a short time the call will be connected and now you just talk as though this were a regular phonecall.
If you prefer you can just send messages by typing, or if you both have a camera attached to your computer and a high-speed Internet connection then make video calls.
How much does it cost?
The basic Skype service is free and allows you to call other Skype users over the Internet. There is no cost beyond your normal Internet charges. For a tiny extra fee you can call regular phone numbers using SkypeOut. At time of writing that rate is 0.017 Euros per minute (about 3 cents NZ). That includes international calls.
Compare that with Telecom’s Anytime plan, charging 18 cents per minute for national calls and 49 cents per minute to the UK, and you can see why VoIP is becoming so extraordinarily popular.
It may be worth doing some sums and experimenting a little.
More information on VoIP
Written for and reproduced from CommunityNet Aotearoa Panui, November 2005. The article has been edited a little for use here. Costs quoted refer to 2005.