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Ditching the phone company for Skype

This guest article was submitted by Ken Hasner.

Skype_logo 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:

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.

DLINK_USB_Skype_Adapter

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).

Ipevo_USB_Skype_Phone

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.

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Guest Contributor

Pocketables is a US-based online tech magazine that brings news, insights, opinions, and comprehensive reviews on various mobile computing devices, portable technology, and related topics to a global audience. We focus on devices that fit into pockets of all sizes, from jeans and jackets to backpacks and purses. The gadget experts that comprise our staff produce high quality articles and original features colored with real-life use of products over weeks and months, not first-impression opinions formed within hours or days.

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16 thoughts on “Ditching the phone company for Skype

  • Personally, I’d go for Gizmo (now called Gizmo5) instead of Skype. Skype is cool and all, but Gizmo uses a standard protocol: SIP.

    Now, Gizmo usually charges 1.9 cents a minute for calling within the US. However, if you have a Google Voice or Grandcentral account, Google Voice will forward to a Gizmo account for free. It’s seen as computer to computer calling. In other words, you get a free Google Voice number and free incoming calls to Gizmo.

    For outgoing calls, instead of dialing through Gizmo itself, dial through Google Voice. Google Voice then calls the phone of your choice, which in this case would be the Gizmo account on your computer. Again, this is seen as a computer to computer call. Then, once you’re connected to Google Voice, it dials the other number that you have selected.

    In other words, free calling within the US if you have Google Voice and Gizmo (plus all of the voicemail and SMS/call forwarding type features for all of your other phone numbers).

    Reply
  • You left out the Nokia N800 and N810 as skype devices!

    As for better market capitalization… you really place Skype above Google? Especially with Ebay getting ready to spin off Skype since it loses more than they expected?

    Reply
  • Avatar of Ken Hasner

    Google as a search provider is huge. So far their VOIP offering is not even on the radar as far as penetration. Skype is mature in its space and fully functional. The comparison was against other notable VOIP providers who provide VOIP as their primary or only service. There are many tiny firms that operate in that space without the safety net of a parent like Ebay.

    The planned IPO in the works is not because Skype is losing money. Currently the operation is profitable and had a 50% growth in customer acquisition in the past 12 months. Ebay paid too much for the company, so here is where the perception of loss comes from. So while Ebay may lose money on Skype in the end, on a current operating basis the firm is in the black.

    As far as leaving out the Nokia devices, mea culpa. There are also literally hundreds of devices that are Skype capable, simply could not list them all.

    Reply
  • Avatar of Abby McKelvy

    What about security? Are you convinced that Skype is a secure tool to use when discussing confidential client information?

    Reply
  • I am no more convinced that phone company lines are any more secure. For example, anyone who lives or uses office space im a multi-unit building, should know that all phone and internet communications terminate in a single (or series) of special closets. These closets offer easy access to anyone’s phone or internet traffic by using alliagtor clips to your copper wires. So while I am not convinced that Skype is truly secure, neither are cell phones (I have seen cell scanners in the past that people use to listen to their neighbors calls), or land line phones.

    Reply
  • There is a software for Symbian phones (all the Nokia E- and N-series, and some other phones inside Nokia, SE, Motorola, …) which lets you chat and call through Skype, Google Chat, Messenger, any SIP VoIP provider and also within its own network.

    Its name is Fring.
    I really love it, and as long as my phone is 3G and WiFi I can call to any of those networks for free (although I’m not using this as much as I would).

    Reply
  • Avatar of memobug

    Have you ever tried to contact SKYPE to resolve a conflict with your account? Trust me it is no better!

    >>>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?

    Reply
  • Avatar of K. Hasner

    I completely agree…however the phone company charges me $60 + a month for that same level of service, whereas Skype charges me about $5 a month. No brainer…same crappy customer service, much less money spent.

    In all fairness….from signing up online to making my first call took about 10 minutes. Everything as seamless and worked without any problems. I can’t count the number of days I had to take off from work to wait for the phone guy because they insist they can’t activate your phone without a visit. Again…no brainer for me anyway.

    Reply
  • I have used Skype as my business landline phone for over two years now and no-one has noticed – to me, that’s the sign of success! I have a Skype-in London number and happily answer calls from wherever I am attached to the net – especially useful if I am working from another client’s office for a few days.

    Reply
  • In fact I have and they replied to my email in less than 24hours with a refund. Frankly I prefer to do things in WRITING, as with your typical NA INC. company it’s all done over the phone, where they can promise anything, and deliver nothing.

    Now say even if I hadn’t got my issue resolved, it was less than $20 so I really wouldn’t have to worry too much about it now would I, just like another commenter said now the monthly subscriptions are in the $3-6/month amount so, I am not sure exactly how one could run up something of serious significance (read several hundreds of dollars) with Skype, hence not sure why I’d have an issue with them, they also don’t automatically charge you (unless you WANT them to) tens or hundreds of dollars off your card, but under $10 per month.

    Reply
  • Jenn,

    There are plenty of so called Skype boxes on the market that enables you to use regular phones without any PC running.

    Also the other way around is possible for those wanting to keep a landline even if only for emergency calls. I personally use the Philips VOIP841 which enables you plug both the ethernet (read Skype) *and* your traditional landline and use the SAME headset (cordless DECT phone not one of those worthless Wifi skype phones) for both:
    http://share.skype.com/sites/skypegear/2006/10/skypegear_roadtest_philips_voi.html

    I believe this Philips unit is out of production now but has served me well! Appears to be another version out now:
    http://shop.skype.com/phones/philips-voip3211-dual-phone.html

    Other possibilities:
    http://shop.skype.com/phones/

    My experience is that Skype Shop isn’t the best on prices but at least one can get a picture of what products (types) are available.

    Reply
  • Which phone service do you believe *IS* truly secure??

    I mean any security is only as safe as it’s weakest link, now if you have two wires running for your landline do you really think it is safer than something over the web?

    I mean there are two types of attempts to hear your conversation, right? The curious one who is just out of curiosity trying to see (hear) what he can pickup, couldn’t care less by whom from where, and the other specifically trying to listen to YOU. In the second case, do you really think ANYTHING is “safe”? I’d dare to claim you’re safer only if you spoke another language :) What are the chances of someone hearing you and KNOWING it is you over the VOIP/Skype/web solution??

    Reply
  • Thanks, EC. The article was actually written by Ken Hasner, one of my new guest contributors. :)

    Reply
  • Thanks for the article. Great read. I use skype through my computer and iPhone. I think the call quality with skype on the iPhone is better than regular calls.
    The only problem I have with skype which is why I don’t use it too often is that they don’t have any skypin numbers for Hawaii. Do you have any recommendations on how to get around that?

    Reply
  • Although the ‘comment’ interaction has died down, I still have a couple of things to say…

    I was hesitant about changing to Skype due to the fact that I make a living on the phone. I kept my landline just in case, but it’s time for it to go. I’ve been using Skype for around 2 months now, and with the exception of a minor glitch here and there, it’s been great.

    I use Skype with my MacBook Pro, iMac, HP Slimline, iPhone, Gigabyte M912, and Sony Vaio VGN-UX180P. I didn’t want to invest in a headset at first, so I’ve been talking directly into my Mac’s, and have been using my Dragon Speak headset for the PC. Courtesy of this article, I’m officially going to setup my landline phones/headsets – double thumbs up Ken, and Jenn!

    Quick gripes
    – caller ID isn’t always on point, but people still pick up anyway
    – iPhone app is good, has potential to be great
    – still sorting out the best way to manage voicemails
    – the Windows app is better, and I hate Windows:)
    – more of my friends and family need to get on board!
    – customer service is far from fantastic, but for that price, who cares!!

    6 total ‘gripes’ and Skype is still standing tall!

    Reply
  • Good luck, Joey. Let us know which headset you decide on and how it ends up working out for you. :)

    Reply

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