Free Internet Phone Calls

Category: Telephony

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.
Free VOIP Calling

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?

Want more options for free phone calls? See my ebook How To Make Free Phone Calls on Amazon.

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...

 
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Most recent comments on "Free Internet Phone Calls"

Posted by:

Andy Butler
17 Dec 2012

One additional consideration before dumping your POTS (Plain Old Telephone Service)is availability of service during "difficult" times. I live inside the Washington DC Beltway in an urban neighborhood. Even though our location is not rural or "income challenged" we experience at least 3 long term (more than 12 hours) power outages each year. This poses a series of challenges for people like me who use a cell phone supplemented by Voice over IP phone service on my computers. Most cell phone transmit/receive locations are not equipped with emergency generators. Some have battery based UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) systems but with normal traffic they last less than an hour. When your nearest cell location goes down you may be able to reach a more distant cell but cell is usually being hammered with traffic that is normally handled by several cells. If you do get a connection your cell phone will automatically increase its transmit power to maintain the connection and your cell phone battery will go dead much sooner. If you can - the minute the power goes out - you should turn your cell phone off. People may panic because they can't call you but at least you may be able to make a call when you really need to.

The lack of power for a computer is obvious but there is an additional "surprise". Most cable TV companies (whether they use copper or fiber for distribution) have repeaters at several points between their head end and you. These devices are powered by the same electric lines that deliver your house power SO even if you have an emergency generator that keeps your computers and home network running, your Internet service is gone.

Power for plain old fashioned telephones is supplied by the phone company over the same copper pair that carries the phone signal. If the phone line hasn't been knocked down you can make and receive calls no matter how long the power outage lasts. During our periodic "power events" my 90 year old neighbor with her plain black dial telephone is very popular.


Posted by:

Brian
17 Dec 2012

I've used the paid Skype service for several years and it seems to be excellent these days. I believe it costs $35. a year for USA and Canada free calling.

My principal operating system is Ubuntu which works with Skype. However I understand other systems may only work with Windows or Mac. Something to check out.


Posted by:

Dave
17 Dec 2012

I have a wireless cordless phone which plugs into my router,I use this with Skype, so have free calls with the added benefit of not needing my computer turned on.


Posted by:

Bruce
17 Dec 2012

In Australia there are several Voip service providers, 1 of which we use for 100% of outgoing and incoming calls.
We both have a mobile which use the "CSip simple" voip solution for mobile. Used together with our mobile wifi gives us low cost voip calls everywhere.

keep up the good work Bob love your daily emails!


Posted by:

Nigel
17 Dec 2012

There is a Skype app for my Android cell phone, so if I am at home or out somewhere that I can get wi-fi contact, I can in theory use Skype instead of my cell service.
Having said that, a couple of years ago I was spending a lot of time in a hotel for work and tried to use Skype with the hotel's free wi-fi - it was very iffy. Sometimes excellent sometimes impossible (although Icould check e-mail) and it was when the hotel was fairly full so presumeably many vistors were using the wi-fi. So I ended up using my cell phone throught the cell network about 50% of the time. Still I saved money the other 50%


Posted by:

Greg
17 Dec 2012

There is one VoIP / SIP provider that charges $ 25.00 per 911 call. I am always asked by friends about dumping their traditional land line. I ask them how important is 911 to them. My family is more important than than saving a few dollars a month.


Posted by:

Lee
17 Dec 2012

Just wanted to say that I use Google Voice all the time and it is awesome and has saved me a lot of money. Also, because it does 'use' your home phone number, I AM able to go anywhere in my home while using it. (Your article said that you are tethered to a computer.)

You also mentioned that Google Voice is free until the end of 2012. What is happening after that? I have heard nothing. Thanks for your work!

EDITOR'S NOTE: Google said it would end in 2011, then extended it to 2012. If I had to guess, I'd say it'll continue into next year.


Posted by:

Dale Bailey
18 Dec 2012

Bob, I think you should take another look at this as Ooma Telo which I use works great even though you do have some fee's involved, if you would like all the extra's such as 911,extra phone#,voicemail,etc. I have the service my self ( Priemer ) and I have atleast five different wireless handsets but I pay $110.00 a yr and still the monthly your state tax's which are around $3.50 a month which works out to about a little over $12.00 a month. Lots of extra features though. People should check it out !

EDITOR'S NOTE: I recently wrote an article all about Ooma. See http://askbobrankin.com/free_phone_calls_with_ooma.html


Posted by:

Don
29 Dec 2012

I have used Magic Jack for years. It works great!
I just plug a USB connection to my computer and a regualr telephone wire from the MJ unit to my cordless phone. Comes with voice mail, you can pick a number from a list, and talk away. No LD charges. Best part, only 19.95 per year.


Posted by:

Marty
29 Dec 2012

I have used MagicJack with a cordless phone with few problems. Also, I just upgraded to their new device that does not require a computer! I am looking forward to trying it out.

Now a word about calling 911...since I am a 911 dispatcher. One of the most important things I can tell you is to make sure that you register the address where you will be placing 911 calls from with the VOIP service provider. This is important so that your call will be routed to the proper dispatch center for your area. Once you're set up, call your local dispatch center on their non-emergency line and inquire if it would be ok to make a test 911 call to verify. Another reason to keep this in mind is that if you take your VOIP device with you when you travel and call 911, you are going to get that same call center instead of one for your new location. Always, ALWAYS stay on the line if you call 911 by accident so resources are not wasted trying to locate you.

Regarding the statement that alarm companies require a landline for when an alarm is activated: not true. My alarm company (ADS) offers a cellular connection with battery backup so even if my landline was cut or my power is out the alarm will still function.


Posted by:

Dwayne Andrews
04 Jan 2013

VoIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) is a great technology that has many potentials. It is also a good thing to have such programs like Skype. However I like developing and developed an own VoIP client (according to this sample: http://www.voip-sip-sdk.com/p_456-voip-android-integration-voip.html) for my Android mobile. I am really satisfied with it. It is a good way to reduce the costs.


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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Free Internet Phone Calls (Posted: 17 Dec 2012)
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