One of the topics we get asked about most often is VoIP (short for Voice over Internet Protocol), or Internet telephony. VoIP refers to any service that lets you make “phone calls” online. A lot of people have heard that you can make calls for cheap or even for free using VoIP, but they’ve got questions about how it works.
There are three main forms of internet phone call--PC to PC, PC to Phone, and Phone to Phone. In this article, we’ll explain each type, how it works, and how much it’ll cost you.
What it is: Pop quiz: You want to make a phone call to your old college buddy. He lives in Seoul now, and you both have computers. How much should it cost you?
If you answered anything but “nothing,” you’re wrong. Pretty much any VoIP software will allow you to make voice or video calls to other users of the service for free. This is the Internet, after all, and you already pay for your bandwidth.
How it works: There are plenty of clients that let you voice chat over the Internet. If you’ll be using VoIP regularly, we recommend Skype. It’s the most popular client for a reason—it’s full featured, easy to use, and totally free. If you just want to make the occasional call, you can use the voice/video chat function in Gmail, which runs right in your browser (though you’ll have to download a plugin).
What it costs: Nothing.
What it is: Although PC-to-PC calling is a great option (and free!), it’s unlikely that everyone you want to talk to is going to want to go through the effort of installing Internet phone software and talking with a headset. Especially if you have older relatives abroad who you want to talk to, you’re probably going to need to be able to make PC to telephone calls.
How it works: Plenty of companies offer “softphone” software that allows you to make calls to landlines or mobile phones—for a fee, which is based only on the country you’re placing a call to. The complicated part is that there are tons of VoIP companies competing for your money, and each one has different rates for every country. To get the best rates, you need to do some research ahead of time, using Google or a comparison site like www.cheapest-voip.com. Once you’ve found a site with a good rate for the country you want to call, be sure to look for user reviews—some VoIP companies have shady reputations.
Some services, like Skype, also offer a monthly unlimited plan, which might prove cheaper than metered billing if you make frequent overseas calls.
What it costs: A couple of cents per minute to most countries, if you find the best deal.
What it is: To get a full phone-to-phone VoIP experience, you’ll generally want to sign up with an Internet phone service. These services provide you with the same experience as a landline, including the use of most handsets, caller ID, and voicemail. You can make and receive local and long-distance calls on your home phone.
How it works: Generally, you sign up with an Internet phone provider like Vonage, which provides you with a small VoIP modem that connects to your router and your handset. You pay a monthly fee, just like with a regular landline, except that most services offer unlimited long distance or a very low per-minute rate. You can use a phone with multiple wireless handsets to get house-wide coverage with just one VoIP modem.
What it costs: $20/month and up for unlimited calling.