Calling over the net
Calling your family back home during the holiday season can be costly. Unless you use your computer - here's a quick guide from our technology expert.
Your computer is calling
Many internet providers have added a new service that enables users to make telephone calls using a technology called' VoIP', or Voice over Internet Protocol. Instead of having a separate phone line, it is now possible to use your internet connection to call someone else. This is frequently much less costly than having a normal phone line from the telephone company.
When you subscribe to the 'telephone' option with your internet provider, you receive a special Internet modem that includes a jack for your telephone. So, instead of plugging your phone into the wall jack that connects to the telephone company, you plug your phone into your internet modem instead. Then, you simply make calls the same way that you usually do and enjoy a much better rate per minute.
Most of the larger internet providers, including Casema, Tiscali and UPC, offer this option. Frequently, there are discounts on the telephone service if you subscribe to the "package" deal that includes the three popular services of internet, TV and telephone.
Some providers also offer unlimited or "onbeperkt" local calling throughout the Netherlands. This can be a real money-saver if you frequently make local calls, since you pay by the minute with a normal phone line while calling over the internet is free!
If you make a lot of international calls, check with your internet provider to see how what the rates are for calling each country. Usually, it is much less costly to make long distance calls using the internet rather than if you used a normal phone line.
Another popular way to make long distance telephone calls for very low cost is by using a software application called Skype. You can download it from http://www.skype.com and it is available for Windows, Macintosh, Linux and Pocket PC.
You do not have to subscribe with your internet provider like other VoIP services, so it is available to any user who has an internet connection. And if you were wondering, I am not affiliated with Skype in any way other than being a very happy user of their services.
Once you install Skype, you have two basic options: SkypeOut and SkypeIn. If you want to make long distance calls for very low per-minute rates, then you use SkypeOut after establishing an account and buying credit. To create a local number in another country and have your calls follow you wherever you are, you need SkypeIn.
You use a credit card to charge up your SkypeOut account and the time that you spend on the phone is debited from this credit account at the per-minute rate for the area you are calling. Most popular countries cost about two cents per minute. As with other VoIP services, these rates are different for each country, so check the Skype web pages for the current rates to the country where you call.
If you have the need to be reached wherever you are, then check out SkypeIn. For only EUR 30 a year, you can have a local telephone number in various countries and have that number directed to you, regardless of your location. So for example, you can have local phone numbers in Germany, China, France and the US - all that ring into your computer wherever you are connected to the internet.
For the best sound quality while using Skype, you should get a headset with microphone. These are available in most computer stores, and some of the better names are Plantronics and Trust. They start at about EUR 10 and range up to EUR 300 for a wireless stereo version. Check out the sound quality by testing it on your PC with someone on the other end. Some headsets definitely sound better than others, so be sure to test it before making your decision.
If you don't like the idea of using a headset to make telephone calls, you can also get a regular-looking telephone that works with Skype and your regular phone line. These connect to your PC via USB and there is even a wireless version that works with Skype and looks just like a normal cordless home phone.
As I was finishing this column, Skype announced that they have added a video conference option in to their software in a testing phase, so it looks like there will be more good stuff to come...
See you on the net!
Have you a technology question? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org
19 December 2005
[Copyright Kevin Yost + Expatica 2005]
Subject: expats and the internet, VoIP