Skype and other ways to make "free" calls

Skype is a software program that can be downloaded over the internet without charge. Skype enables free peer-to-peer voice and video communication. This means two people can talk to each other, text messages and do video conferences for an unlimited duration completely free. The only requirement is that both should have the software running on their computers. Many immigrants moving to America find skype a great way to stay in touch with their loved ones back home (since skype treats domestic and international calls the same way i.e. free).

Skype is just one kind of peer-to-peer communication service, albeit a really popular one. Instant Messaging (IM) applications like Yahoo messenger and MSN messenger also enable free voice and video calls. Most of these technologies are downloadable for free.

Can skype and IM messaging services take the place of your regular phone? The answer is an emphatic NO. While these technologies are really cool and can be a great supplement to your communication needs, you won't be able to manage only with these. Here's why:

  • Skype and IM programs are computer-based applications. So you need to access a computer to make or receive calls. If your computer is off, you don't receive calls - unlike your phone, which would just ring.

  • To make a voice call on skype, you need to buy a headset (alternatively, your computer should have a microphone and good built-in speakers). To make a video call, you need to procure a web camera. Neither of these are expensive accessories, but they do increase the inconvenience - you have to set up, configure and maintain everything - as does the party you're speaking to.

  • You cannot make emergency 911 calls using skype or IM services.

  • Skype calls lack many of the normal telephone facilities we take for granted - things like call waiting, caller ID and call forwarding.

  • If your internet connection is slow or bandwidth low, audio and picture quality will be less than satisfctory.

  • The party you're contacting must also have a skype or IM account for the call to be free. Skype has now begun services where you can call normal, non-skype landlines or cell phones too. But these are paid services and bring skype into direct competition with other VoIP telecom providers.

To summarize:

Use skype or IM for making audio/video calls to a defined set of parties at defined times. For instance, skype is a great way to connect your 2 year old in America with his home country based grandmom on the webcam every night. Just don't jettison your phone service and depend on skype exclusively !

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