I’m starting to like the VOIP service Skype a lot more than I once did. I recently moved to
a new home, and even though I only moved five blocks, my new location had really poor mobile coverage (Cingular). My mobile didn’t even register a signal sometimes and I quickly realized that I wouldn’t be able to rely on my mobile phone as my primary phone anymore. I had played around with Skype about a year ago and didn’t really like it too much, but since I had a headset and the software installed on my PC, and really needed a way to make phone calls, I decided to give it another shot.
If you haven’t tried it, the Skype software piece is very much like an instant messaging application. Calling other Skype users is free no matter where they live in the world, but since most people I needed to speak with weren’t Skype users, I bought some credit on Skype’s SkypeOut service for calling regular land lines and mobiles from Skype. Call quality seems to have improved a lot since the last time I’d tried it (about 18 months ago). It’s not perfect, and doesn’t beat a regular land line, but it gives a mobile phone a run for it’s money. It’s also pretty cheap at $0.023/min to most of North America, Europe, and good parts of Asia. In calling people in North America I haven’t had a call drop or any other technical problems which result in the call being aborted.
The software client is great. In almost the same glance you can see all your contacts, your call history, new call events, and see your SkypeOut balance. But the best thing about the new client is the ability to check voicemail (If you sign up for the SkypeIn service you get a local number and voicemail for about $4.50/mo.) You don’t have to call in, enter numbers, or wait for prompts. If you have a voicemail, you see an icon, click on it, and simply hear your voicemail. All voicemail should be accessible from a computer and be this easy to check.
Since Skype is software based a PC must be used to make calls. I use a USB headset to speak and listen, but there are lots of headset and handset choices, including the recently announced Skype cordless phone by Linksys. I like the USB headset rather than an ordinary headset because it allows you to speak and listen with the headset but hear the phone ring out of the PC’s speakers.
It is not without it’s problems though. With some voicemail systems tones from Skype don’t seem to register. Even though I have a local number with the SkypeIn service, I still show up as “0000123456” on all caller ID screens. And while it’s a really cool idea, the Skype forwarding service makes for poor quality calls and terrible calls when forwarded to a mobile phone. I also wish I could check voicemail remotely in addition to checking it via my computer.
Anyway, it’s not best solution but if you’re a one person show with a laptop, or always have a PC running in your house, it isn’t a bad idea. Now that Ebay has bought Skype it’ll be interesting to see how the two companies integrate. Besides adult content business models, just about anyone with any practical advice to offer might be able to make some extra money or even earn a living via Skype/Ebay/Paypal. Skype for the call, Ebay for reputation and trust, and Paypal to handle the billing.