Many of you have probably already heard about VoIP, or voice over IP. This is a technology that allows you to make telephone calls using the internet. With VoIP you can save money on your monthly bill, get inexpensive or even free long distance, plus get loads of extra services without any additional cost. Unless you have lots of time to explore the more than 1100 VoIP providers that exists today, you will probably want to simply decide between two choices: Vonage or Skype.
In the world of VoIP you have two basic options; you can get the "regular phone replacement with lower monthly phone bills" option (Vonage) or you can get the "plug a phone into my computer and it costs me nothing" option (Skype).
If you go for Vonage, everything works pretty much like it works today with your home phone. The main differences are:
1) Your phone bill is somewhere between 15$ to 25$ a month.
2) You get inexpensive long distance rates, free if you are talking to another customer who uses Vonage.
3) You get a bunch of features included in the price. (VoiceMail, Call Forwarding, Caller ID, Call Waiting etc..)
4) You have a "box" that sits between your computer and your internet connection. (This box will cost you 50$ to 100$)
You will keep your current phone number. You will have 911 service, FCC has mandated that VoIP providers such as Vonage provide full 911 service by ~November, 2005. You will have a nice web interface to all your fancy new phone features. You will get some pretty good customer service. If you want to keep your regular phone wiring you can do that too, though you will need to be a bit of a handyman type.
On top of this, you get some nifty extra benefits. For example, if you travel frequently you can take your "box" with you, plug it into any internet connection, plug a phone into the box and it's like you are sitting at home with your telephone!
Finally, Vonage is a reasonably large, aggressive company. This means they want your business and they are willing to fight for it. You can expect their prices to be competitive and to remain competitive. For more information you can go to their web site http://www.vonage.com/ Don't forget that you must have a high speed internet connection to use Vonage or Skype.
Now, if you go for the "plug a phone into my computer and it costs me nothing" option then you want Skype. Skype is free, Skype is easy to use and Skype works. All you have to do is download, install and start using it. It is completely
painless. If you are like me, you will start using Skype because you want to stop paying for long distance. My mother lives in the Czech Republic. In the Czech Republic it costs a lot of money to call North America. I told her to get Skype, now she calls me all time and it doesn't cost us a penny.
After you get used to paying nothing for long distance, you will begin discovering some of Skype's other options. As of June, 2005 Skype has the following options:
1) You can get Skype Voicemail for ~19$ a year (that is about ~1.50$ per month)
2) You can call almost any phone number on the planet for 2 cents a minute, half of what Vonage charges in many cases! (Skype to Skype calls are always free)
3) You can get an incoming phone number for around ~39$ a year (that is only 3.50$ per month and they throw in voicemail for free! Remember, unlike Vonage which gives you a phone number when you agree to pay the 15$-25$ a month, Skype starts you off for free but will only give you a phone number when you start paying them 3.50$ a month. I started off using Skype for free since I was only making Skype to Skype calls at first)
4) You get a bunch of features included for free (conference calls, Caller ID, Call Waiting ...)
5) There are tons of add-ons (also know as plug-ins) for Skype, many of them are free. You can get a Skype Answering machine, you can have Skype integrated into Microsoft Outlook or you can even start Podcasting with Skype. All Skype add-ons can be found at http://www.summitcircle.com/
6) There are lots of Skype communities. You can meet people for fun and conversation, you can even meet people to learn new languages.
7) Last, but not least, Skype has instant messaging and file sharing.
Once you get going with Skype you will find that it starts to grow on you. I haven't replaced my regular phone with Skype, but it has become my second phone line and I use it frequently.
However, Skype does not have 911 service, nor would I expect it to have 911 service until ~2007. Skype does not have great customer service. To be fair, they are growing really fast. They are getting 150,000 new users everyday, can you imagine trying to have great customer service when you are getting 150,000 new users signing up every single day?
Nonetheless, if you are like me you will find that Skype is the easiest choice to make. I wasn't ready to cancel my home phone and I wasn't ready to commit to paying a company a monthly fee, I simply wanted to stop paying for long distance. After that I got hooked!
If you are interested in Skype, then download Skype for free at http://www.skype.com/
Once you have Skype, you can find a Skype phone, add-on or community at http://www.summitcircle.com There you will find all the Skype add-ons (or plug-ins) that you want, you will find links to dozens of different Skype phones along with reviews and comments by users and you will find links to all the different Skype community sites on the web.
About the author:
Louis Philip is the owner of http://www.summitcircle.com/where he writes about the world of Skype and maintains the largest Skype resource site on the web. He can be reached by e-mail: mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org
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