Free calls using Voice over Internet Protocol
I have recently been looking at voice over IP and thought I would share some information on the facilities that allow you to talk free of charge to other computer users over a broadband connection.
There are two popular technologies available at the moment, SIP and Skype. What they have in common is that they both offer reasonable quality phone calls between any two computers with an Internet connection, for free, so long as the computers have either a sound card with a microphone and headphones (or preferably a headset) or a phone is somehow attached (VoIP phone adapters and phones that plug into a USB port or the sound card can be purchased). Both technologies offer much higher quality than was previously available using software such as Microsoft NetMeeting, MSN Messenger, ICQ etc for voice communication. They also offer pre-pay services to call normal telephones around the world at “reduced cost” using the same technology – however I am not convinced that the price or quality of this service is quite as impressive as some of the cheap telephone to telephone services available such as OneTel or 18866 (from the UK). With any VoIP service you are able to use your number anywhere in the world that you can set up the software or connect your computer to the Internet.
Skype’s main advantages are that it allows for instant messaging, online status checking and most impressively voice conferencing for up to 4 additional contacts free of charge, you can also add non-computer participants to a conference so long as you use their pre-pay service to pay for the call. If you are familiar with messaging software such as MSN Messenger or ICQ then this software is very similar but for the addition of voice communication. The only real drawback of Skype is that it cannot be used to communicate with the growing number of SIP VoIP networks.
There are many networks that use SIP, among the most popular in the UK are FreeWorldDialup and Gossiptel. With these services not only can you call out to other VoIP users on their computers free of charge and other normal telephones for some small fee, but you can also have a standard 0870 telephone number that can be used to call you on your PC (some alternative SIP services can offer you a US number instead). Gossiptel, which is a fairly new player in the market, also has the very big advantage of offering free customisable voicemail, so if you are away from your computer, your computer is off, or you simply fail to answer a call, it will go through to a voice mailbox, voicemail is sent by email and can also be checked using the VoIP system or by calling the service through an 0870 (BT national rate) number . I am not aware of any free voice conference facilities using SIP. You can call between SIP networks (such as FreeWorldDialup and Gossiptel) quite easily.
So far I have only tested the services calling my wife and myself at home and by using features provided by the service providers. My views on PC to PC VoIP are widely supported by others who have reviewed the technology but I do not know if my hesitance over computer to land line calls is so widely shared.
In a nutshell then, if you want to call between friends or colleagues free of charge by making the most of an Internet connection then VoIP is coming of age, quality is greatly improved and delay, between computers at least, is down to a minimum. Skype has the advantage of offering Instant Messaging features and conference calls free of charge, Gossiptel has the advantage of offering voicemail free of charge. Skype and SIP technologies can exist alongside each other on the same computer.
I have a number on both services. Email me if you want to know the details.
USB phones can be found on ebay by searching for the keywords voip usb and phone.