March 21, 2011

One of the great things about our line of work is that you get to work with people all over the world. This nearly always means talking to them on the phone, and this would be seriously expensive and annoying if it wasn’t for a little application called Skype.

Skype is a free VOIP (Voice over Internet protocol) service that lets you make free phone calls from your computer to other Skype users anywhere in the world, over the Internet.

If you haven’t used Skype before, you should give it a go, because it’s so cheap. For example, it’s free to call other Skype users anywhere in the world. If you want to call a landline from your Skype account, it’s very cheap too. For example, a call from a Skype account in New Zealand to a landline in Australia would cost 2 cents per minute.

You can download Skype from http://www.skype.com and you don’t need to pay to start using it, but there are paid services available for calling landlines and mobile phones, and Skype Premium allows you to do group video calls.

Skype was invented in 2003 by Nicolas Zennstrom and Janus Friis. The company is based in Luxembourg. As of 2010, there were 663 million registered Skype users. Compared to using your existing phone, obviously, price is a huge advantage. You can also use Skype for free instant messaging, sending files to people, conference calls, and video calls.
Skype is great for video calls, but you don’t have to show your face if you don’t want to. If the person you’re talking to has a web cam, you will be able to see them.
You can even do group video calls, with multiple people all on the screen at the same time! You need to pay for Skype Premium to do this, however. It costs about $10/month.
If you’re using Skype from your computer, you’ll need a microphone if you want to make phone calls. Failing that, you can do instant messaging instead. You can type your messages while the other person talks to you.
You can call landlines from as cheaply as 2 cents per minute, depending if you pay a monthly subscription or pay-as-you-go. It can be quite a bit more expensive to call mobile phones. To get around this, it’s better to install Skype software on your smartphone and tell your contacts to do the same. Then you can make a free mobile-to-mobile phone call anywhere in the world (as long as you’re in range of a wireless hotspot or you’ve got a sweet 3G plan).
If you’re using Skype’s paid services, you can choose Pay-as-you-go where you prepay for Skype credit (just like topping up your TradeMe account) or you can choose a monthly subscription. There are lots of subscription plans to choose from, depending on what countries you want to call.
My favourite way to use Skype is from my mobile phone. Skype has versions for smartphones so that you can use your phone as a Skype phone. The iPhone app that I use is absolutely brilliant and it integrates really well.
The call quality is mostly really good, although it depends on your Internet connection. Basically, the faster the better (Come on Pacific Fibre!).

There are some alternatives to Skype out there, e.g. Google Talk, Windows Live, etc., but I’ve never used these other services. If anyone has, I would be keen to hear about their pros and cons and how they compare to Skype.

And my Skype username is mhcmiller