There was a time when long-distance and international phone calls were a luxury but, thanks to VoIP or Internet based telephone services, this is no longer the case.
You can now call your friends and family members anywhere in the world at extremely low rates (sometimes even free) and some of these VoIP services don’t even require you to have an Internet connection at home.
VoIP Services for Making Phone Calls
Most people have heard of Skype, and it still is one of the best VoIP services around, but there are quite a few other good options as well that let you make phone calls over the Internet using your regular landline, mobile phone or your computer.
There are three kinds of Voice over IP (VoIP) solutions that let you enjoy crystal-clear* phone calls at a fraction of the price that your phone company charges:
1. Hardware based – You get a dedicated hardware router that sits between your Internet modem and your corded /cordless phone so you can make and receive phone calls just like before. The only difference is that calls are now routed through the Internet and not your phone company so you usually end up saving money.
2. Software based – You install a VoIP software on your computer or your web-enabled mobile phone and make phone calls via the Internet connection bypassing your phone company. It doesn’t matter if you mobile phone is connected to the Internet over Wi-Fi, GPRS, EDGE, 3G or WiMAX.
3. Web based – Web based VoIP services neither require any hardware nor software. You open the VoIP service provider’s site, type the phone numbers and you’re instantly connected. Some services also offer special hotlines (or direct access numbers) that let you make Internet phone calls using your traditional phone even if you don’t have an internet connection.
Let’s look at popular VoIP services that fall in each of these categories:
1. Dedicated VoIP Hardware
This is usually the best option for people who want to make regular phone calls over the internet but while they are relaxing on the couch and not having to sit in front of the computer screen.
To use dedicated hardware-based VoIP solutions, you need a router, sign up for the appropriate service (listed below), and connect the box to your internet and the standard telephone. Here are some of the best hardware based VoIP products that also provide you a traditional phone number so you can both place and receive calls through VoIP. And none except magicJack would require a computer.
|VoIP Service:||Costs Involved and Features:||Pros and Cons:|
|Vonage – Vonage makes your VoIP experience very similar to a traditional telephone service. Simply plug the Vonage box into your internet connection, then connect your regular phone to the Vonage box and start making calls.||The hardware costs $79.99 and you pay $24.99/month for unlimited calling to US and 60 other countries. Vonage is available in the U.S., U.K. and Canada but you can ship the device to your family members in other countries (like India) and they’ll be able to call you at local rates.||Pros: Worldwide calling, flat rate, simple setup, works like a traditional phone service. You can carry the device while travelling and save on calling cards /hotel bills.Cons: Monthly service cost is high, long contract.|
|Ooma – You simply plug the Internet line into your Ooma device and then connect any corded / cordless phone into Ooma. That’s it – you can make unlimited phone calls inside the US for free.||The hardware costs $249.99. There are no monthly charges except $12/year for taxes and other fees. A $9.99/month premier plan is available that adds number porting, an additional line, and advance telephone services.||Pros: Unlimited free calls to any phone number in the US, low rates for dialing international numbers, no long-term commitment.Cons: Entry-cost is a bit high.|
|Skype Phones – Skype is best known for offering voice and video calls through the computer, but they also provide hardware to help you make calls over the internet without a computer. This gives you the convenience of a traditional phone with the value of Skype calls.||Standalone Skype phones start at $79.99 though you can go for USB phones that cost a little less but require a computer. With a Skype phone, you can make phone calls to all other Skype users for free or refer to this price chart for calling international numbers.||Pros: Powered by one of the most popular internet telephone services and no long-term commitment. Skype is available worldwide.Cons: The unlimited calling plans aren’t available in all countries.|
|magicJack – A cross between a software and a hardware offering, magicJack is a small USB device that connects to a Mac or PC. You then connect a traditional phone to the magicJack device and make free phone calls to any number in the US.||It costs $39.95 for the first year (device cost + yearly charges) and then all you pay is $19.95 per year. Calls from your magicJack from any country to the U.S. and Canada are free while calls to international phone numbers are charged based on their rate table.||Pros: Cheap hardware and low-yearly fees.Cons: Requires a computer.|
|PhoneGnome – It’s a simple box that you plug-in between your Internet modem and the landline phone and start talking. PhoneGnome is the oldest player in this segment.||The hardware costs $99.99 and there are no monthly bills.For $5/month, you can pick any 10 phone numbers in US, Canada and other countries and you’ll be able to make unlimited calls to those numbers for free.||Pros: With PhoneGnome, you can also make calls to GoogleTalk, Windows Live, and Yahoo Messenger using your regular phone. They also ship to international locations.Cons: Requires invitation.|
2. VoIP Software for Desktop and Mobile Phones
Your first introduction to internet based telephone services was probably through services like Skype that allowed you to make voice and video calls through your computer. In order to make VoIP phone calls through your computer, all you need is a headset cum microphone and one of the following programs.
|Skype – Available on Windows, Mac, Linux, Windows Mobile and iPhone. Nokia, Sony and Samsung users can use Skype Lite for making calls from their mobile phones.||Free calls to another Skype user, rates per minute to any number worldwide start at $0.02/minute. Unlimited minutes to any one country cost $5.95/month, while unlimited minutes to over 40 countries worldwide cost $12.95/month.You may buy a personal phone number of any country for $60/year and your friends /family members in that country can call you from their regular phones by paying only local call rates.|
|Windows Live Call – Requires Windows Live Messenger which is available only on Windows.||Free calls to any Windows Live Messenger user, rates per minute to any number worldwide start at $0.015/minute. You can also send text messages to mobile phones for free but a limitation with Windows Live Call is that it is only available in select countries.|
|Yahoo! Voice – Requires Yahoo! Messenger which is available for Mac and Windows.||Free calls to any Yahoo! messenger user, rates per minute to any number worldwide start at $0.01/minute. For $2.49/month, you can get a dedicated phone number (of US, UK or France) for your computer so that friends can call you directly from their landline or mobile phones. All calls to 800 numbers are free with Yahoo! Voice.|
|wengoPhone – Available on Windows, Mac, Linux, and Windows Mobile, or via a Firefox extension.||Free calls to wengoPhone users, rates per minute start at 0.006â‚¬/minute (wengoPhone is a European-orientated service).|
|pfingo – Available for Windows PC, Nokia, Sony and Motorola mobile phones.||Free calls to other pfingo users, rates per minute to any phone number worldwide start at $0.04/minute. You can get an international phone number for Singapore, Australia, US, UK or China and your contacts in these countries can call you at their local rates.|
|Vopium – Available for all popular mobile phones including BlackBerry, HTC (Android), iPhone, etc.||With Vopium installed, you can use your mobile phone call to anywhere in the world with rates starting at 7 ¢/minute. If you are in a Wi-Fi zone, you don’t even have to pay the local charges to your phone company but a downside is that Vopium is not available in all countries.|
|Truphone – Another popular mobile VoIP application that is available for Nokia, iPhone, Android and BlackBerry phones.||You can call other Truphone anywhere in the world from your mobile phone for free while international calls to other landline and mobile numbers start at 5 ¢/minute.|
3. Make VoIP Calls with (or without) Internet
Yes, you can make cheap international phone calls over VoIP without even having an internet connection as long as you a landline or mobile phone.
There are VoIP services that offer a local phone number which you can call using your normal phone, then dial the number of the person you wish to call, and your call will be routed over the internet by the VoIP service. Then there are services that let you enter your phone number and the number you are calling on a website; your phone will ring, and when you answer it, it will automatically dial the number you wish to call.
|Service Name and Features||Costs involved|
|Jaxtr – Jaxtr offers local numbers for most countries – simply call that number and then input your friend’s number. Jaxtr will send an SMS message to your friend containing a local number. She can call that number and you’ll be connected.If you are located in a country with non-local Jaxtr numbers or if you want to skip that call-back option, you can make direct phone calls using the web dialer at jaxtr.com – enter your number and the number you wish to call, and the phones will simultaneously ring.||You can make unlimited free calls to landlines and mobile phones in countrieswhere Jaxtr has a direct access number and when the other person is willing to call-back on the number that he receives by text.For direct dialing, the rates start at 13 ¢/minute.|
|Jajah – Like Jaxtr, Jajah also provides direct access numbers for many countries around the world. You call a local number from your phone followed by the number of your friend (it could be long-distance or an international call) and Jajah will connect the two parties. It will also assign a unique number for your friend so you call him or her directly without having to dial that local access number.Alternatively, you can type your own phone number and that of your friend on the jajah site and you’ll be connected. You may use this desktop browser or any internet enabled mobile phone to call friends via Jajah.||All calls between Jajah users are free while calls to any number worldwide start at around 5 ¢ per minute.If the friend you are trying to reach is on Twitter, you can use the @call service of Jajah to make a free phone call and talk upto 2 minutes without revealing your personal phone number.|
|Rebtel– You get a local phone number that will connect you directly with your friends and family abroad.It works like this. You type in your friend’s international number and Rebtel will provide you with a unique local number corresponding to that international number. You can then use your regular landline or mobile phone to call your friend’s international number through a simple local call.With Rebtel, you can call anywhere in the world but the person initiating the call (i.e., you) should be located in a country that is supported by Rebtel.||In case you calling the other person directly using the local number provided by Rebtel, the rates start at $0.01/minute.However, there’s a way by which you can make free international phone calls with Rebtel. Once your friend is assigned a unique local number, give him call on that number. When he picks up, ask him to hang up and call you back on the number displayed on his phone while you wait on the line. You’ll be instantly connected and will only have to pay local charges for an international phone call.|
[*] VoIP calls are generally cheaper than regular phone calls but make sure you have a decent broadband connection for better voice quality. Also, they are no replacements for your traditional phone as none of them offers access to emergency services like 911 in US.
Related: How to Secure your Wireless Network