The following article has nothing to do with genealogy. However, it is an interest of mine: I love to save money. I thought I would publish this in case you feel the same.
The days of paying extravagant fees just to stay in touch with scattered family members are just about gone. The tools for calling around the country or even around the world for pennies per minute have been available for several years. Now those tools have reached a state that simplifies the use and makes this just about irresistible for anyone who wants to stay in touch with anyone else, anywhere.
I have written a number of times about Skype, an online VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) service that allows you to make free voice calls to other Skype users all over the world. There is no monthly charge for basic Skype service.
For a small fee, you can also call regular telephones all over the world as well. I have used Skype for several years, and I love it. I typically place all my long distance calls on Skype or on Google Voice, either free of cost when calling others who have Skype accounts, or (when using Google Voice) free of charge when calling old-fashioned telephones in the U.S. and Canada, or prices ranging from two cents to five cents per minute when calling regular telephones in most other countries. Calls to some third world counties can cost more.
Several people have told me, "But I don't want to wear a headset and be tied to my computer when making phone calls. I also don't want to leave my computer on all the time." In fact, you don't need to do any of those. You don't even need a computer to use Skype! You will need a broadband Internet connection, however.
Several companies sell dedicated telephones made for Skype. Most of these phones do not attach to a computer.
I have been using a cordless Philips Skype telephone for several years. It is a cordless phone and its "base station" plugs into the Internet router in my home. It does not connect to a computer. The model I am using is no longer manufactured but apparently has been replaced by the Philips VOIP 321 Skype Dual Phone, which is even cheaper than the one I purchased a few years ago. See the picture above. For a wi-fi handheld phone, see the picture to the right. Notice that there are no wires on this phone. It doesn't connect to a computer but it does need a wi-fi connection to the Internet.
You can find a number of other dedicated phones made for Skype. Search on Google for any of these.
Skype phones that connect to your broadband router:
XBLUE Desktop Skype™ Telephone
Belkin F1PP010EN-SK Desktop Internet Phone for Skype
IPEVO S0-10 Skype Desktop Phone
Cordless Skype phones:
Siemens Gigaset Digital Cordless Phone with Hybrid IP/Landline Calling (A580IP)
Philips VOIP 321 Skype Dual Phone (this is the updated version of what I use)
Wi-Fi (cordless) Skype phones:
IPEVO S0-20 WiFi Phone for Skype
Belkin Wi-Fi Phone for Skype (F1PP000GN-SK)
Netgear SPH101 Skype Wi-Fi Phone
Video phone for Skype:
I haven't yet tried the ASUS Skype Videophone Touch SV1TW, which is a two-way picture phone. Admittedly, it is rather expensive with prices currently running from $175 to $275. If both parties have the ASUS Skype Videophone Touch SV1TW or if one party has the videophone while the other party is using a computer with a web cam attached, you can have two-way video calls anywhere in the world at no charge. Note that both parties in a video call do need to be Skype subscribers. Skype subscriptions are available free of charge.
The above is an abbreviated list. You can find more Skype telephones by searching on Google or most any other search engine. You might start at http://goo.gl/4YIGw
I would suggest you not purchase one of the cheaper telephone adapters that plug into your computer's USB port. If you do, you will need to leave your computer running all the time in order to receive calls. None the phones listed above plug into your computer. In fact, you don't need a computer at all with any of the above phones as long as you have a broadband connection available.
I do occasionally use one USB Skype phone. I like the IPEVO FR-33.2 Skype USB Handset when traveling. (See the picture to the left.) It plugs into the USB port of any Windows or Macintosh computer. It is small, easy to pack in the suitcase, and works well. Since I only stay in hotel rooms for a few days at a time, I don't mind leaving the laptop powered up when I am in the room. I could use one of the other phones listed earlier, but most of them are too bulky to pack in my carry-on luggage. The IPEVO FR-33.2 takes very little room.
I disconnected my regular telephone service provided by the local telephone company several years ago. In its place, I use a cell phone plus two different VoIP services that place calls over the Internet: Skype and a commercial SIP phone. When I travel, I take my phone with me. If anyone calls my regular phone number, I can answer from home, from a hotel room, or from wherever I am. I can even answer it from my cell phone, but that's another story I will cover in a later article. I don't miss the phone company, and I especially do not miss the high bills I used to pay.
Of course, there are disadvantages with anything. You cannot transfer your present telephone number to Skype (although many other VoIP services will do that). Many people do not want to give up their existing telephones and phone numbers. However, Skype is an excellent, low-cost method of adding a second phone line in your home.
With Skype, there is no 911 emergency service (although there is 911 service with the other VoIP service I use) and no 411 directory assistance. If the power goes off, your Skype or other VoIP connection will stop working. Where I live, that's not much of an issue as the only time we ever lose power is when a tree limb comes down in a winter storm. In those rare cases we normally lose electricity, the Internet, VoIP phones, regular telephones, and cable television, all at the same moment. In the past three or four years I have been using computer VoIP phones, I haven't found the VoIP service to be any more or any less reliable than regular telephones. You may have different experiences where you live. In contrast, the cell phone seems to work all the time, even in the biggest blizzards and ice storms.
Of course, if you have a regular phone plus a Skype phone, you should be well covered for emergency calls in most situations.
Many people use Skype or another computer VoIP telephone provider to add a second line to the house, keeping the phone company's service as the primary line. However, I found that was too expensive for my tastes, so I asked the phone company to disconnect my regular telephone service several years ago. I have been pleased with the combination of a cell phone plus Skype.
You can find many other VoIP telephones that do not use Skype. My third phone is a SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) VoIP phone that makes calls on the Internet but does not use Skype. And yes, I'll write about SIP phones soon.