Out and Get Touched: Yikes!
academics, there are times when we’d like to set up conference calls
with our colleagues and students. Many of us spend time off-campus and
some of us are even overseas at any given time. As anyone who has tried
to set up a conference call knows, this is not always an easy task and
it can also be quite expensive. I’m intrigued by the idea of free,
long-distance telephone calls. Nowadays, cell phone plans and even
land-line phone services are making low-cost, long-distance calling a
reality. However, all of these services come with an attached price tag.
How about free calls? Better yet, how about free conference calls? In
fact, both of these can be found with Skype, an incredibly useful
was started in 2002 and is now a subsidiary of eBay. The idea behind
Skype is quite simple. You sign up for a free account with a logon ID
and password at
Then, you plug in a headphone and microphone into the audio jacks of
your desktop or laptop and log-on to Skype. Next, contact some other
Skype users by their logon names and, if they wish to talk to you,
they’ll reply. Unlike earlier web-based calling, Skype’s audio quality
is much better than that of cell phones and most landline phones. If
you’re brave enough to do video-conferencing, plug in an inexpensive web
camera and you’ll be seen as well as heard. As many as ten people can
establish a conference call.
between Skype members who are at their own computers are completely
free. At this point, you might ask how you could phone people who are
not at their computers. Here’s where you’ll have to pay a little bit
more for some excellent service. For $30 per year, you can call any cell
or home phone in the USA or Canada on unlimited basis at any time of the
day or night. If you wish to call overseas, you can sign up for the
SkypeOut service, which allows you to call most places in the world for
around two cents per minute. If you wish to call extremely remote,
underdeveloped nations, then you’ll pay slightly more. I frequently
call friends and colleagues in Europe and Australia for less than $1.50
Remember that if both people are at their computers, then Skype is
free, If you’re calling a non-Skype user, then you’ll pay a small fee.
Let’s add another twist—what if you want to call people on Skype but you
don’t want to use your computer? Well, those Skype folks have an answer.
There are cordless phones that connect via WI-FI to routers and then
call either Skype or non-Skype users at their phones or computers.
Several major manufacturers (e.g., Netgear, GE /Thompson, US Robotics,
LinkSys, Hawking, Logitech) offer Skype phones. Personally, I’ve enjoyed
using my GE phone and I’ve saved a considerable amount of money with it.
short, for keeping in touch with friends, colleagues and students, you
might try Skype.