There’s no doubt that Voice Over IP has substantially grown over the last five years or so, and looks to become the way for the future. With high-speed internet connections everywhere, it makes sense to take advantage of the infrastructure available, and offer people the ability to contact each other with voice (as well as video), at very low prices.
One of the most popular VOIP providers, and one who happens to have been battling non-stop in court for the past year or to, is Vonage. Vonage provides you with a router to be connected to your own router on one end, and to a regular phone on the other. And for a monthly fee depending on the subscription you’ve chosen, you can use the regular phone set to make calls over the internet. You will be given a US number, and you have a large selection to choose from. The following are the most important features:
- When you sign-up for a one year contract, there are no installation fees, and you receive their router free
- You can use your own phone set. It’s always nice to have that sort of flexibility
- Comes packed with a ton of features, most notably: call waiting, caller ID, 3-way calling, and an online account that shows all of the details regarding calls made, received, etc.
- Allows you to sign-up for more features, such as a fax line, and my personal favorite, a virtual number. That means you can have a number in Spain, for example, where people from that country can make a local call to reach you on your Vonage phone.
The downfall, is the pricing. The following are the most popular packages:
- Premium Unlimited: for about $30 monthly, you can make calls anywhere in the US, Canada and Puerto Rico for as long as you want. Plus you can make free calls to landlines in Italy, France, Spain, UK, and Ireland
- Basic World: for about $35 monthly, make the same calls as above, plus 29 other countries’ landlines
- Call Europe: for about $40 monthly call 17 countries in Europe
- Remaining international plans: all for about $45 monthly, and each specializes in a certain region
Not to mention that to add a feature, such as the virtual number, you’ll be paying $10 monthly on top of your subscription fee. Overall, not incredibly expensive, but still a bit pricey.
Originally not considered to be from the same league, the leading VOIP and PC-PC messenger has entered the competition and looks very promising. The majority of the regular users depend on Skype to make free calls to friends and family all over the world who also have the program installed. But now, more and more home users and small offices buy Skype credit to make very cheap calls world-wide from their computers.
Skype prides itself in its simplicity. When compared to Vonage, you won’t find that many features to brag about:
- Skypein, your US number that non skype users can call you on. Costs vary, but generally between $5-$10 monthly
- Send SMS to cell phones
- Choose the number to appear when you make calls to cell phones of phones with caller ID
- Forward your calls so that when you’re not online, you receive the call elsewhere. Free to landlines.
In terms of pricing, the per-minute costs of international calls are comparable to those of Vonage. What is different however, are the subscription fees:
- Unlimited Country: for about $5 a month, you can choose a country who’s landline calls will be free
- Unlimited Europe: for about $7 monthly, make calls to landlines in over 20 European countries free of charge
- Unlimited World: the fascinating option. For only $12 monthly, you have over 40 countries to call (landlines) for as long as you want
So far, Skype seems like a solution for your computer. But then there are three ways to use skype without your computer
- USB Skype phone: I personally think it’s a waste of money, because a headphone with a mic will do the same job. So we can neglect this option
- Ethernet or WiFi Skype phone: those are big and can only get bigger. They’re basically phones that you can connect directly to the router and do no need a computer. This means that, as long as there is an internet connection, you are automatically logged into Skype, and can make and receive calls as you would normally. So if you have the WiFi phone and are sitting at a cafe with internet access, you can call Skype users that are online for free. Otherwise, you can make calls using your credit for dirt cheap. Those phones are insanely expensive, though (we’re talking $100-$150). But it’s only a matter of time before the competition kicks in
- Skype on your mobile phone: whether you’re using Symbian, Windows Mobile or the iPhone, you can install Skype (sometimes indirectly via another software, like Fring) and use any WiFi network, or the 3G network (if your provider has high speeds at affordable rates)
NOW Skype is comparable to Vonage. In fact, it is difficult to tell which is the better solution, because that would depend on how you plan to use it
Should You Skype or Vonage?
There are valid arguments on both sides of the fence. The trick is to find the plan that most suits you.
Choose Vonage if:
- All your calls are from home, you’re not on the road much
- Most of your calls are either to the US, or one of the five countries that are free to call
- You want a fax line and/or you want to have a local number in a foreign country
Choose Skype if:
- You don’t make that many calls in general, in which case you’ll just use your credit
- All your international calls are directed towards certain countries, in which case you’ll get the right plan for that
- You’re always on the move, and have your laptop with you
- You have a cell phone where Skype can be installed
- Many of the people you call use Skype. Nothing better then free calls, with video
Personally, I use both. I have Vonage in my home/office to make and receive calls internationally. However, I rely on Skype as much as possible, as it is cheaper and constantly improving. Although once Skype phone are available everywhere and at logical prices, I think Vonage will have to make convincing moves, or else they’ll potentially cease to exist.
Needless to say, they are both nowhere near perfect. And when compared to the traditional phone cards and cell phones, there’s quite a way’s to go in terms of quality and consistency. Nothing’s more frustrating than calls breaking up and dropping, and that will happen with both of them. However, the internet connections and physical infrastructure are constantly improving, and the entire globe with eventually shift to VOIP. Who knows? Maybe we will be left with another competitor that offers the best of both worlds, and with a convincing quality of service.