This guest article was submitted by Ken Hasner.
Have you ever spent an afternoon on hold with the phone company when all you needed was to ask them one quick question about your bill? Have you ever tried to navigate the labyrinth they call their “automated voice response system” just to be disconnected when you’re finally about to connect to customer service? Well having recently experienced both of these customer “perks,” I decided to launch a diabolical plan to rid my premises of the evil phone company landline.
The concept was simple: replace my landline, which I used exclusively for business, with some other form of telecommunications device. Since I already paid for high speed Internet access and I like to fool around with any new technology, I decided to give VoIP (voice over Internet protocol) a shot.
VoIP service is available from three primary sources:
Cable ISP. Almost all cable Internet providers also offer a VoIP service. This was not a good fit for me because I get my Internet service through a Verizon DSL connection.
VoIP vendors with dedicated hardware. The two principal vendors providing this type of service are Vonage and Ooma. Simply link their dedicated VoIP device to your ISP modem (or network) and you can use your ordinary analog phones just like before.
VoIP vendors that require the use of a PC or a specialized handset. There are several vendors available but Skype is the largest and best capitalized with the backing of eBay. Since I had a dedicated PC, I chose to implement Skype for my VoIP system. Skype is the VoIP choice for many technophiles on the go. It’s easy to install, works very well, and is downright cheap compared to competitors and the dreaded phone company landline.
Since this is a site devoted to pocketable devices, I would be remiss not to mention a small sampling of various pocketable devices that Skype is available on:
- Apple iPhone and iPod touch
- NETGEAR SPH200W WiFi phone
- IPEVO S0-20 WiFi phone
- IPEVO FR 33.2 USB handset
- Sony mylo COM-2
My Home Office Setup
I have a home office and also frequently carry my office (Acer Aspire One netbook) on the road with me, so I needed two separate methods to access Skype for business calls.
At home I wanted the convenience of using my existing analog handsets and the solution was simple. I have a dedicated PC (an old clunker that acts as a print and scan server) to run Skype on. To enable the use of your regular telephone handsets, you need to add a small USB interface device from D-Link (model DPH-50U) that will allow you to plug in an analog handset.
I actually added a simple line splitter to connect two phones, one corded and one cordless, so I can roam about while talking on the phone. One tip is to use the drivers from US Robotics instead of the ones that come with the device, as they are more stable. US Robotics sells a similar re-branded device.
While on the road, as long as I can get Internet access either wired or via WiFi, I can use Skype. The built-in microphone and speaker in the Aspire One are horrible for Skype use and since I hate to wear a headset, I needed something else. After looking at several WiFi Skype phones I settled on a light, pocketable, USB handset from IPEVO (model FR 33.2).
It’s small enough to tuck into the pouch of my Aspire Once case and comes in very handy when I need to make business calls on the road but don’t want to use my cell. The IPEVO comes with an installation CD that includes drivers and software that will also allow you to record your Skype calls.
Initial Impressions of Skype
I had read so many things, both positive and negative, about using Skype that I didn’t know what to think at first. Now I’m very glad I gave it a try. I’ve found call quality to be excellent and have not had any problems except for some PBX systems not showing properly on the incoming caller ID.
Another great feature is something called Skype to Go (available as part of your subscription or separately) that allows you to route calls through Skype from your cell phone. What this means is that you can call, for example, another Skype user across the globe using your cell and if you have free night and weekend minutes like most plans, the call costs you nothing, nada, zip!
The bottom line is that I went from a $60+ monthly phone bill to paying just $5.45 per month with Skype. Be aware that Skype cannot handle fax transmission alone so an online fax service was added for that, but still the total comes to less than $20 per month for unlimited calls within the USA and Canada. Voicemail, call forwarding, conference calling are all included with a subscription.
All in all, I would have to rate Skype a must-have whether you run it on your iPhone, netbook, or dedicated PC as I do. If you already pay for high speed Internet, Skype is not only a great way to communicate with your friends, family, or associates wherever they may be around the globe, it’s a no-brainer (unless you really like the phone company’s on-hold muzak).
Ken Hasner is an independent investment advisor who spent nearly 15 years in various information technology positions before changing careers. He has a strong interest in using technology to make work and life easier.