Talk Is Cheap
How would you like to be
able to speak with your Aunt Maud in Australia or your brother in the USA for
free, for as long as you like? If you both have PCs and broadband then it can
be done using Voice Over Internet Protocol or ‘VOIP’. This ingenious
development is revolutionising the telecomms industry and one day it could make
conventional fixed line phones redundant. It’s early days and there’s still a
lot of confusion but if you would like to see what the future holds you can try
it right now, and it won’t cost you a bean!
What is it?
or Voice Over Internet Protocol is a clever trick that lets PC owners use the
Internet or computer networks to make phone calls to one another, or call from
a PC to a landline or mobile phone (and vice-versa).
How does it work?
conversations are turned into ‘packets’ of data and sent over the Internet in
exactly the same way as web pages and email messages. The only requirement is
that both PCs should have a broadband connection. VOIP can be made to work on
dial-up but the quality is dreadful and not worth the effort.
What are the advantages?
VOIP calls are carried on the Internet so they are free or very low cost (over
and above the user’s normal broadband subscription and connection fees etc.).
Some VOIP software is free and it’s a great way to try it out, though paid-for
VOIP services are generally more flexible with extra features.
Internet-capable PC can be used for making and taking VOIP calls and that
includes laptops and portable PCs, so you can stay in touch whilst travelling,
using broadband connections in hotels and through wireless ‘hot spots’ in cafés
and airport lounges.
ideal conditions call quality can be excellent, even better than a landline
connection, though much depends on the software used, the speed of the
connection, Internet and network traffic levels and the headphone or handset
used with the PC or laptop.
VOIP programs support multi-way (conference) calling and two-way video calls,
when both PCs are equipped with webcams.
What are the pitfalls?
PC users normally have to use the same VOIP software or service and you will
need a headset or handset that plugs into the PC if you want your calls to be
calls can usually only be received when the PC is on, connected to the Internet
and running the correct VOIP software, though a growing number of VOIP phones
operate independently of PCs by connecting to suitable ‘Ethernet’ type
take calls from landline or mobile phones it is necessary to use a service that
provides the user with an access phone number or a Direct Inward Dialling (DID)
facility. This normally involves a subscription or additional call charges for
one or both parties. Similarly, outgoing VOIP calls to a landline or mobile
phone number has to go through a service provider, though the fees or
subscription is usually a lot less than normal fixed line local and international
VOIP services – mostly the free or low cost ones -- are capped and
automatically disconnect after a preset period. Calls to emergency services,
directory enquiries and so on may not be possible on some systems and most VOIP
systems will not operate during a power cut.
technology is still very much in its infancy and there is very little in the
way of standardisation. Companies and services will undoubtedly fail or
disappear in the early days so it may be unwise to invest too much in equipment
or subscriptions, or rely on VOIP as your only phone service.
How much does it cost?
needn’t cost you a penny. If you want to give it a try, and have a friend or
relative with a broadband PC – and they can live anywhere in the world --
simply download Skype, set up an account (and tell the person you want to talk
with to do the same). It’s worth buying a headset microphone (or a purpose
designed handset) and prices for these start at around £5.00.
you want to dial out to landlines and mobiles then you will need to subscribe
to a service and pay for outgoing calls but the cost varies enormously. There
are free dial-out services – with strings attached – but in general the outlay
is from a few pounds a month for unlimited use to per minute call charges that
vary according to the type of phone and country being called.
To receive incoming calls from landline and mobile
phones you will need to pay or subscribe to a service, which will issue you
with a telephone number. Once again payment schemes and charges vary widely,
from a flat monthly subscription for unlimited use to per-minute charges based
on the time of day and caller’s location, so shop around for the deal that best
suits your needs.
BUDGET – FREE AND LOW COST
one of the first and most popular VOIP services is absolutely free when used to
make PC-to-PC calls to other Skype users anywhere in the world. Premium
services for making outgoing and taking incoming calls to and from landlines
and mobiles are available by buying Skype Credit or taking out a subscription.
Outgoing calls start at 0.017 pence per minute, subscriptions for taking
incoming calls from landlines cost from £10 for 3 months.
or very low rate incoming and outgoing VOIP calls can be arranged by
registering with services like VOIP User, (see Contacts for details), though
this is best suited to advanced users.
growing number of ISPs and telecomm companies are now offering VOIP services
and the prices vary widely. For example the recently launched Tesco package
costs £20 for a handset with a phone number for non-VOIP and this also includes
a £5.00 call voucher. Calls to UK landlines cost 2 pence per minute and calls
to mobiles are 10 pence a minute
major ISPs, including BT and Orange (formerly Wanadoo) now bundle VOIP
messaging with new broadband packages or offer them as an upgrade but read the
small print carefully as the tariffs, call charges and allowances can be
MONEY NO OBJECT
VOIP systems operate through a PC with a broadband connection and this has to
be left running on order to make outgoing and take incoming calls. However a
number of top-end VOIP phones have all of the necessary hardware and software built-in
and only need to be connected to a network or Ethernet type broadband modem.
Consequently they are a lot dearer, prices start at around £70 to £80 and this
type of VOIP phone is better suited to companies and businesses operating
MUST HAVE ACESSORIES
Hama CS-499, £9.99
Basic neckband headphone
with boom microphone. Fitted with standard 3.5mm minijack plugs, compatible
with most PCs and laptops, widely available from PC vendors and accessory
SKYPE Cyberphone W, £30.00
Two-piece phone handset
designed specifically for use with Skype (software included). Fitted with USB
plug, simple to install and setup, selectable ringtones, missed calls display,
conference calling, and voicemail indicator.
GrandStream BudgeTone 102,
A conventional looking
desktop phone, pitched at home and business users. Plugs directly into
broadband/LAN router so no need for PC to be left switched on. Built-in caller
ID display, alarm clock, music on hold and downloadable ringtones. Open
standard so compatible with a wide range of services.
ETHERNET BROADBAND MODEM
Type of broadband modem
that operates independently of a PC
Set of technical standards
for sending ‘packets’ of data to specific locations or IP ‘addresses’ in a
computer network or through the Internet
Provider -- a company providing access to the Internet along with other
services such as sending and delivering email etc.
Local Area Network -- a network of connected computers, usually
within a small geographic area (office, building etc).
Device in a
network that transfers data between computers
FREETALK (formerly Dixons
TESCO Internet Phone
VOIP Price Comparison
EXAMPLE VOIP DEALS
VOIP offering can be difficult to find in amongst all of its other services but
it’s reasonably easy to setup and use, and charges are fed through to your
normal phone bill. The software is free to download and with this you can talk
free, PC-to-PC, to other Yahoo Messenger users. Extra optional features let you
call landline numbers from your PC (Clic2Call, calls charged at normal BT
rates) and take incoming calls (Clic2Connect, calls charged at normal outgoing
call rates plus 1p per connection)
was one of the first VOIP packages to be backed by a well-known high-street
name, in this case Dixons. It is designed to be simple to understand and use
and works with any normal phone, which plugs into an adaptor box that connects
to broadband modem (preferably Ethernet type). Freetalk costs £80 a year, or £8.00
per month and this includes unlimited UK and local calls, international calls
and calls to mobiles are competitively priced, from 2 pence per minute; a
number is provided for incoming calls.
particular interest to International Callers Gossiptel’s packages include a
free pay as you go tariff with a rate of 2.5pence per minute for calling 35
countries. The World 500 tariff costs £9.95 per month which pays for up to 500 minutes
call time to landlines in 35 countries and mobiles in the US, Canada, Hong
Kong, Singapore and China. The World Unlimited plan costs £14.99 and provides
unlimited international calls to landlines and mobiles. Gossiptel works with
any broadband connected PC based (free
software download), or ordinary phones using an optional adaptor for £88, or a
hardware VOIP phones costing £120.
© Rick Maybury 2006 2606
Normal BT Rates
The devil you know and simple to setup but
fiendishly complicated rates
£7mth or £80annual
Easy setup -- uses existing phone & no PC but
requires Ethernet broadband modem
Excellent intro to free PC to PC VOIP but
dial-out services not terribly competitive
£10 (includes phone & £5 call voucher)
Buy starter pack online or in-store. Windows PCs
only, straightforward call charge structure
£10 setup/£8.00mth (£6pm first 6 months)
Good value for heavy users, no PC needed but
Ethernet modem required
= pence per minute
Freetalk & Vonage merge on September 19th
Gossiptel site down -- suspicious… Could be iffy., I would leave them out