Subject: VoIP Voice Internet Telephone
Having been burned a while back when making overseas phone calls, I quickly became educated in the benefits of using a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) phone system when I took a trip to China last year. With that phone (and a copy of my hotel destinations handy), my wife was able to give me a wake up call every morning in what ever hotel room I was in with the phone at a cost of less than three cents a minute. It was a great way of keeping in touch while I was traveling and her at home and made the trip more fun for both of us.
But the more I used it, the more I didn't like some of the features of that phone so when I was at the CES show in January, I discovered that there were many more options than going with one of the big phone companies or Vonage. Those options tend to charge you $20 plus a month for full service and I was interested in something I could use on my own terms and was a bit easier to use than the TalkPro phone I had.
The VoIP Voice Internet Phone, http://www.voipvoice.com/, attracted me because of the new Cyberphone K's style, feel, and it looked neat. It is a solid piece of equipment and it looks neat.
What also attracted me to it was that it used a new to me, internet calling service called Skype, www.skype.com an internet calling community with software that you can actually download to your computer and use without having any phone at all. It uses your sound card and a microphone connected to your computer to make your calls.
Start with the Install CD that came with the phone before you plug in the phone which comes with a USB connection. One thing I like about the phone is that it is heavy and has the cords built into it so you don't have some flimsy cables to deal with.
The software installs quickly and in my case, discovered that there was a newer version of Skype on the web so it downloaded it and installed it for me. Of course, the first thing you do is to agree to the EULA (End User License Agreement), and as I saw language I couldn't understand, decided to take a closer look. One thing I noticed was the clause that states in tiny print:
No Emergency Calls: by entering into this Agreement You acknowledge and agree that the Skype Software does not and does not intend to support or carry emergency calls. Please also see article 7 below
Or, how about this part of the Eula:
3.2.2 You will constantly monitor the Skype Website in order to ensure that You are distributing the latest stable version of the Skype Software as well as that You are aware of any changes in the applicable legal documents. In the event You cannot agree on any changes in any applicable legal document, You will immediately cease any and all use of the API and, where applicable, any and all use of the Skype Software.
Once Skype is loaded, it becomes resident on your computer and will load each time you start your computer. The VoIP package doesn't' include a quick start guide and the software doesn't tell you what to do next so you just plug in your phone. Skype will alert you to tell you that something else is trying to use the software but that is ok. From here, you need to go to the Skype window on your computer and you will find it in the task bar near the clock.
You can make Skype to Skype calls free of charge but if you want to call any other number, you need to add money to your Skype account. It takes you to their web site where you can enter your credit card information and start with a minimum of 10 Euros in the account. The site is secure but when I shop online, I use a secure one time only credit card number I get from my credit card company to make absolutely sure. It takes about 15 minutes before the account is updated and you can start to make your calls. One thing to keep in mind is that you may lose your account credits if you don't use it for 180 days so you should use your minutes.
Skype is like a big instant messenger service in that you can put in a profile so that people can search for you and call you. Since I have enough people bugging me on AOL IM, I decided to leave all my profile information blank. I really want to use this phone to call other land line based numbers and for overseas calls. But looking over the people that have signed up and it is quite a list. In fact, when you startup a call, the status window tells you that there are 1.6 million people online.
The handset is comfortable to use and has some interesting features. There is a plug for a headset so you can talk hands free and there are other calling features like a mute button, and some extra buttons to make dialing easier.
To make a call, you can either pick someone from your Skype dialing list or enter it on the computer's dialing window or through the key pad on the phone. Just lifting the handset brings up the Skype dialing window. However, when I entered a phone number, I would get an error message telling me to enter a plus sign before dialing the number. Kind of difficult to do that with a keypad with no plus sign. Digging around more on the Skype web site and a quick email to my contact tells me that I can substitute 00 for the plus sign. Because I couldn't get it to work, I thought that had to have the computer shut down and restarted before it works properly. Once that part was settled, making a phone call became much easier. You do have to remember the dialing rules. For instance, when using my cell phone to make a call, all I dial is the 10 digit number. Make that same call from a traditional land line, you must dial 1 first. With Skype, you must dial 001 first.
Finally, I can make my calls. And it works just fine. I made several calls and found the quality of the sound was just fine. Hearing the problems some friends have with Vonage, I also tried downloading some large files to see if they would interfere and other than the occasional piece of static, I did not miss any of the conversation at all. More calls over the month will let me know how well this works but for now I can say that it was worth the effort to get connected. One thing to remember though, is that at this time, there is no way to get a call into your phone from the outside world. But as demand gets higher, that might change as well. People calling you from the outside world still need to use a land line.
Some time ago I did a rate comparison of phone calls made with a variety of services to different overseas locations and found in updating that listing that Skype rates are some of the best you can get for overseas calls. Drop me a note if you would like to see that updated article. An interesting note is that if you call a phone with caller ID, the call says it is coming from 000-012-3456. You can buy this phone directly from VoIP Voice at www.voipvoice.com for $60 including shipping.
Robert Sanborn is a technology Writer for PC Lifeline. You can reach him through the net at firstname.lastname@example.org
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