I have recently published articles about the new Bobsled application from T-Mobile and about Google Voice and also about Skype. All of these are VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) services that allow the user to make voice calls over the Internet, similar to placing telephone calls. Several newsletter readers have written, asking for comparisons or "which service is the best one?" I thought I would offer my views.
In fact, all three services are very different from each other, and offering side-by-side comparisons is difficult, probably impossible. Comparing these three is similar to comparing apples and oranges and pomegranates. However, each has advantages. In addition, I have found a fourth service that is very useful to me, and I also see dozens of others advertised. Using any of these can potentially reduce your phone bills to zero or at least close to zero.
Perhaps we shouldn't call any of these "telephone services" as they don't use telephones in the traditional manner. Some require use of a computer while others do not. Some may have their own devices that look like telephones, but those devices won't work on normal telephone lines; they only work on Internet connections. One service (Google Voice) doesn't include any hardware; it only works with your existing telephone service(s), including old-fashioned telephones and new VoIP systems alike.
The real question is this: "Do you want to replace your present (old fashioned) telephone?" For many people, the answer is "No." However, these services can serve as a second or third telephone line in your house. If you have teenagers in the house, you already know why you need multiple phone lines. However, most everyone else can benefit from multiple phone lines to some degree as well. That's especially true when the additional lines are free or very low cost.
I am so pleased with my VoIP services that I disconnected the old-fashioned phone line some years ago. However, I did so only after using the old-fashioned service side-by-side with the new service for a couple of years. Eventually, I realized that I wasn't using the old-fashioned service any more, so I had it disconnected. Your experience may differ. I would suggest the same process for you: try a new service or two or three services for some time side-by-side with your existing phone service, then make up your own mind. I would suggest you try them side-by-side for several months, maybe 12 months or even longer.
Skype is by far the best known and most popular of all the VoIP services. Millions of people around the world use Skype every day. Skype originally required a microphone and headphones attached to your computer and all calls had to be made through the computer. In fact, you had to leave your computer running all the time in order to receive calls. As Skype has grown in popularity, however, several manufacturers have produced new hardware that provides new options. Several companies now produce telephones made for use with Skype. Instead of connecting to your computer, these connect directly to the Internet connection in your in-home broadband modem or router. You can turn the computer off and still place and receive calls, as long as the Internet connection hardware is powered up and operational.
You can see several typical telephones made for use with Skype at http://shop.skype.com/phones/ including one that features two-way video.
The available features vary from one manufacturer to another. Many offer speakerphones and some offer two-way video. Most are simple to use: when the phone rings, you pick up the handset and say, "Hello." To place an outgoing call, you pick up the handset and dial the number on the phone's dialpad.
Skype calls are always free when connecting to another Skype user, even if that other user is thousands of miles away. In addition, Skype offers extra-cost options to call old-fashioned telephones or to receive calls from old-fashioned telephones. The fees for these calls are always much, much cheaper than calls made through the phone companies.
Call quality on Skype varies but generally produces better quality call connections than do old fashioned telephones. Calls from one Skype user to another Skype user are excellent quality while those made from a Skype user to an old-fashioned telephone are limited by the quality of the telephone connection.
On the negative side, Skype does not offer 9-1-1 emergency calls (or 9-9-9 calls in the U.K.).
Further details may be found at http://www.skype.com
The new Bobsled application from T-Mobile is a less mature service. It still requires that the computer be left running all the time in order to receive calls. Placing a call requires the user to be logged on to Facebook, which raises security concerns for some people. The user talks through the computer's microphone and listens through the computer's speakers or headphones. In short, Bobsled is similar to Skype of 5 or 6 years ago. T-Mobile has promised to expand those capabilities in the future, however.
I would never replace my only telephone line with Bobsled.
Dozens of other computerized telephone services are also available today. These are generally call SIP services. SIP stands for "Session Initiation Protocol" and is the standard used by most commercial VoIP telephone systems. If your workplace has a newer computerized telephone system, it is probably using the SIP protocol. SIP is very popular in commercial telephone systems.
When experimenting with telephone systems several years ago, I signed up with Callcentric, a company that offers many SIP services. I don't know if Callcentric qualifies for the title of "the best" or not, but I consider the company's services to be very good. I have stayed with the company for several years now and have no plans to switch unless I can find something that is a lot better. I have both Skype and Callcentric installed in my home. Both systems are very low cost.
Callcentric has several options, including FREE telephone service for incoming calls. (You are required to pay a federal tax, however.) Unlike Skype, Callcentric customers even receive a standard telephone number at no charge. However, you do pay for outgoing calls, but at rates that are much lower than those of most telephone companies. Callcentric's fees for outgoing calls are roughly the same as those of Skype. Calls to U.S. phones are usually 1½ cents per minute. Of course, when coupled with Google Voice, as explained later in this article, even outgoing calls to the U.S. and Canada may be made free of charge.
Callcentric also provides telephone numbers in 38 different countries. For instance, you can obtain a phone number that is local for your relatives back in "the old country." When they dial that number, the telephone on your desk will ring. They don't pay international toll charges.
Callcentric also offers standard 9-1-1 emergency calling. In an emergency, anyone in my home can pick up the SIP telephone and dial 9-1-1. They will instantly be connected with the emergency dispatcher at the local police department, which is about a half mile from my home. In other words, it works just like any other 9-1-1 calling system.
Callcentric requires either a new telephone made for VoIP use or a regular telephone, such as one you purchase in most any department store or electronics store, as long as you also purchase an analog telephone adapter (ATA). It works with both wired and cordless phones. By using an ATA, you can also use Callcentric (and most any other SIP telephone service) with burglar alarms, FAX machines, and other telephone equipment.
I replaced my old-fashioned telephone with Callcentric and have been pleased with the results.
You can read more about Callcentric at http://www.callcentric.com/
You will want to be aware that none of these services will work during a power failure. All of them require electricity in your home in order to function. In comparison, your old-fashioned telephone may or may not function during a power failure. Typically, the phone line itself will work when the power fails but cordless phones and other sophisticated phones that you add usually require electricity. Only the simplest of phones connected to an old-fashioned telephone line will work during power failures.
In contrast, my cell phone has always worked flawlessly during power failures. The local cell towers are all equipped with emergency generators and remain 100% operational during power failures, blizzards, and other problems that interrupt traditional telephones and VoIP services alike.
Google Voice is perhaps the most interesting phone service of all. However, it is also radically different from the other services listed. Google Voice does not supply telephones but only works with EXISTING telephones. Those existing phones might be old-fashioned wired telephones or cell phones or computerized VoIP services or whatever else you choose. As long as the telephone has a standard telephone number assigned, it will work with Google Voice.
Google Voice provides free outgoing phone calls to the U.S. and Canada as well as very low cost calls to other countries around the world. Google Voice will also assign a new telephone number to you which you may use or not, as you choose. Calls placed to the new number will be forwarded to your existing number(s), up to a maximum of five numbers.
What I like best about Google Voice is that it forwards calls to five numbers simultaneously. In the old days, before Google Voice, I used to tell people to call me in the early morning at home, during office hours at my office, during the evenings at home, on weekends at my sumer home, and at other times on my cell phone. All my friends and relatives had to keep track of my many phone numbers and then attempt to guess which one I might be near.
Since switching to Google Voice, I now give only one number to my friends and relatives. When anyone calls the new number, ALL my phones ring simultaneously, and I can answer on any one of them. Callers no longer need to guess where I am and also do not need to keep track of multiple numbers. One telephone number reaches me all the time, wherever I am. It even reached me on a recent trip through England. Even during power failures, I remain reachable since my cell phone number is one of the numbers that Google Voice rings.
Not bad for a free service! Placing long-distance calls to foreign countries does cost a bit of money, but much less than what traditional telephone companies will charge for the same calls.
You can learn more about Google Voice at http://www.google.com/voice
Are any of these services worthwhile for you? You won't know until you try them. I would suggest you first use one or more of these as a second or third telephone line in your home. After you have taken your service of choice for a trial run for a few weeks, you can decide whether or not you want to remove the old-fashioned telephone service. Whichever of these services you try, I think you’re going to like the money you save over the services we’ve grown up with for the last fifty-plus years!
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