I was introduced to Skype about a year ago and it’s changed my life ever since. In fact, I’ve found it so useful and practical that I’ve been telling all my family and friends about it. It seems there are a lot of new products popping up every day for Skype and I try to keep myself current on the newest technology for VOIP and Wifi. With that in mind I figure it would be good to keep a blog on my experiences so that others can share in the pros and cons as I try to convert my life from land-based phones to virtual phones.
To begin, I thought it would be good to give an overview of what Skype is, or more or less an overview of the benefits of why to use it. I don’t want to get to much into the back-end technology of Wifi and VOIP, but I will touch on them more in later posts. In the most simplest use, Skype is an IM (instant messenger) and like most of them it’s free! That’s right, you can go to Skype.com and download the latest version of the application and set up a free account. From there you can begin to not only IM other Skype members for free, but your able to actually call and talk to them. This does require at least speakers and a microphone, but most users will get a headset with both. (starting at $15 at most department stores, but I suggest getting the USB enabled sets that start at about $25)
This is only the beginning, as their are lots of options and add-ons that can be utilized, and some are free, while others have a charge. However, I’m going to review my experiences and what I’ve found to be the best formula for optimizing the Skype experience. I will also review some options for running businesses through Skype.
1. I start with getting Skype Pro. This is for both personal and business accounts. This is useful for several reasons and helps to get other options for discounted prices. Skype pro gives you unlimited calls going out to the US and Canda for one low cost per year (currently at $36 per year), as well as a free customizable voice mail, free call forwarding, vouchers for hardware, software, and most important a discount for getting a actual phone number setup (60% savings from the regular price). With Skype Pro you’ll be able to use your computer to call anywhere in the US and Canada for free.
2. Calling Back – I then get SkypeIn for the discounted price of $24 per year and chose a phone number with any area code that I want to have. They have a pretty good selection of phone numbers, but don’t expect to find the exact number you want. However, it’s nice to be able to chose the area code and phone number.
That’s it, you now have a phone, phone number, voice mail, call forwarding, caller id, a bunch of other features, as well as unlimited free calls to the US and Canada, and you paid only $60 a year.
Now there are a bunch of other features and benefits which I will touch on here, but will go more in depth with in later posts.
1. Free Business Control Panel – This is a great tool to set up multiple accounts under one user and be abel to assign numbers to each account, add credits to them, and assign and check voice mails.
2. Skype Extras – Lots of free goodies, like games, voice recorders, call centers, virtual pbx, application sharing, music player, and more. (some extras are free while others are free to try)
3. SEO and Marketing – Side bar widgets and other tools for promoting businesses.
However, at this time we are talking about Skype and Wifi are and the benefits of using tem. At this point, you have an unlimited phone that you can use at your disposal, but it’s on your computer and how can it be used effectively. Thankfully there area a lot of new products coming out to solve this problem and I’ve been experiencing them over the past 6 months and will review them here. Side note: I see this being a very open market for R& D over the next year or so and look forward to what’s coming.
1. Headsets and Wireless Headsets – These are devices that plug into your computer and lets you make calls from Skype and talk via one device. I’ve found this very useful and keep a headset with my laptop at all times to be able to make calls when I’m connected to the Internet. The quality is great with the wired devices and I don’t ever seem to have any problems with them, but the wireless ones I’ve not found as good of quality in sound and so I’m hesitant to rely on them.
2. Getting away from the computer – There are some new units that help to get you away from the computer but still give you the power of Skype and VOIP. Router based units are good for home use and provides you a base unit that plugs into any home router sytem and sends a signal to a standard cordless phone device. This pretty much would be the same set up as a land-based line, and in fact the products that are on the market now allow for both signals at the same time. However, you’ll be able to make free calls via the Internet and save lots of money per year. The only drawback is that you can only link up to 4 phones to one base unit so if you are use to having more than that it might not be good for you. Also, make sure the phones are able to dial Skype directly and not through your contact list. I tried the Phillips unit and was impressed with the quality, ease of use, and other features, but was disappointed when I found out that I could only call from my contact list. If I wanted to make a call to a number that was not already in my list, I had to add them via the computer before I could call with the cordless phone.
3. Wifi - Not this is the big thing right now and certainly the most impressive feature of this service by far. The benefit of having Skype using VOIP on Wifi is a true joy and the reason that Skype will be around for a long time. With the new devices on the market called Wifi phones, people are able to use their phone to connect to the Internet like a laptop and make calls via Skype. I had to buy one of these phones and purchased the Belkin unit, but there area also products from NetGear and Linksys. My Belkin is able to search for wireless signals and allow me to connect to them and use Skype. If it finds an open signal it will connect automatically and allow me to get on and start using the features. However, there are some limitation, as it cannot connect to browser based login services from some Internet services providers, such as those found at hotels and other secure places that provide a password to access. But it does connect to secured lines and allows the user to save the keys for stored networks. In example, I’ve stored the wireless network keys for all my personal locations and work so when I’m in the areas where those signals can operate I’m able to make free unlimited calls.
Right now, I’ve been estimating that it will save me about $800 per year so I’m glad to have made the investment to buy a Wifi phone and set up a Skype account so that I could take advantage of the VOIP revolution. I figure if the phone last me 3 years then I’ve saved myself thousands of dollars and with that I’ve been telling family and friends about it, and now you know as well.