Free Internet Phone Calls
A reader asks: Is there any way to make free phone calls over the Internet? I've had it with the phone company and their never ending fees. I'd appreciate your advice, especially if it will help me drop my landline service for good...
Free Phone Calls With VoIP
Yes, Virginia, there is a way to make free phone calls. And fortunately, it doesn't involve a fat guy in a red suit breaking into your house. VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) is a technology that enables telephone conversations over the Internet, bypassing the phone company's landline and cellular networks. Depending on your needs, you may be able to drop your landline service (and the monthly bill that comes with it), but there are some caveats. Here's how it works, and how to make free phone calls using your Internet connection.
The sound of your voice, like any other sound, can be encoded in a stream of zeros and ones. These bits of data, like any other bits, can be transmitted over the Internet to another computer. At the receiving end, the stream of data is decoded and played over a speaker so the person you're calling hears your voice. In a general sense, VoIP is no different from recording music in an MP3 file and sending it to someone who can then play it. But voice conversations are necessarily two-way and held in real time, so VoIP is a little bit more complex.
A number of protocols have emerged for handling VoIP. The first VoIP protocol, H.323, is still widely used to carry long-distance traffic. Others include Session Initiation Protocol (SIP), Real-Time Transport Protocol (RTP), and Session Description Protocol (SDP). Even your familiar landline phone company uses VoIP. But you really don't need to know any of those geeky details.
Most phone calls these days take advantage of VoIP technology, even those calls routed through your good old-fashioned landline. But landline phone calls are provided by your telephone company, which charges old-fashioned rates. So how can you make free VoIP phone calls?
Skype and Other VOIP Services
Skype is one of the oldest and most popular providers of free VoIP phone calls. You need to set up a Skype account, then download and install the Skype VoIP software, which is also free. You also need a microphone into which you can speak and speakers through which you can hear, or a headset that plugs into your computer. Then you can call another Skype user without paying anything. You can't call landlines or cell phones using the free Skype, and you won't have a phone number that can be called from "real" phone. But you can add this capability to a Skype account for as little as $4.95 per month.
Millions of people use Google's Gmail to manage their email on the Web. But most people don't realize that Gmail has the ability make free phone calls. In addition to Skype-like computer-to-computer voice and video chat, Gmail lets you place calls to landline and mobile phones. Phone calls from Gmail are totally free (through the end of 2012) for calls to any kind of phone in the U.S. or Canada. Other international calls can be made for modest fees. If you don't use Gmail already, you just need to sign up for a free Google account. You can bring up the dialer at any time by clicking the little phone icon that shows up at the top of your Gmail Chat contacts, in the left-hand column on your Gmail screen. You can also click on a linked phone number in an email message, or in a text chat window, to begin a phone call.
You might be thinking that it's nice to be able to make free calls with Gmail, but how about incoming calls? Another free service called Google Voice solves the problem! With a Google Voice account, you get a free landline phone number, free voicemail, even automatic transcription of voicemail messages to text. Your free Google Voice phone number can ring on your computer, or you can forward it to another mobile or landline phone. If you don't already have a Google Voice account, you can upgrade your Gmail account with a few clicks. Here's what you need to do:
- In Gmail, click the phone icon at the top of your Chat list.
- From the Call window, click your current account balance.
- Select the History option.
- Once in Google Voice, click the “Upgrade your account” button.
- Follow the instructions to complete the upgrade.
Can VoIP Really Replace my Landline Phone Service?
Granted, free VoIP phone calls are a bit of a hassle compared to the ease of traditional pushbutton calling. You'll be tethered to a computer, so you can't use the phone and walk around freely, as you can with a cordless landline or cell phone. Unless you add the cost of a wireless computer mic/headset, you're stuck at your computer location.
Another thing to consider is that emergency 9-1-1 service doesn't work well with these free VoIP solutions. Sure, you might be able to dial out to a 9-1-1 operator, but they will not have a readout of your address, as they would if you were calling from a landline or mobile phone. Also, most home security systems require a landline to dial out when the alarm is activated. You should always have an alternative means of accessing 911 or similar emergency services, such as a landline telephone, mobile phone or a neighbor.
Some people just don't want that kind of uncertainty when their lives may be on the line, so that's a consideration when deciding whether or not to go with a VoIP-only phone solution for your home. But free VoIP phone calls can save you a ton of money, especially on long-distance and international phone conversations, if you're willing to accept the limitations I've mentioned here.
There are MANY other options for VoIP calling, some free and some not. My ebook How To Make Free Phone Calls is available on Amazon for just $2.99. It explains in plain English how to use over a dozen VoIP services to make free or low-cost calls via the Internet. It also contains a confession of the telephone hacking crimes I committed 35 years ago. :-) But I promise, all the techniques described in the ebook are 100% legal. Oh, and you don't need a Kindle or some fancy tablet to read my ebooks. You can view them online with a web browser, on your PC or Mac, with a smartphone, or any Kindle device.
Do you have something to say about free VOIP calling? Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 17 Dec 2012
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Free Internet Phone Calls (Posted: 17 Dec 2012)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved