If you plan on making a lot of phone calls to landline or mobile phones back home as you travel, you might want to consider VoIP service providers. Often, you’ll find they have far cheaper call costs than Skype or its competitors.
VoIP is an acronym for Voice over Internet Protocol. In simple terms, it means that your phone call is routed over the Internet rather than via your phone company. Therefore, you need to have an Internet connection in order to make a VoIP call. As with a normal phone or mobile calling plan, using a VoIP plan, you can call landline phones, mobile phones, and also send text messages. It is possible you might already be familiar with VoIP phones. You may have VoIP connected phones at work. Instead of being plugged into the phone network, they’re plugged into the Internet so that your company can save on call costs.
As the diagram above shows, you can make calls via the Internet between any of these VoIP connected devices and to landline telephones and mobile phones without VoIP capability. (However, with landline telephones and older mobile phones (that are not smartphones) you can only receive phone calls and not initiate them.)
Skype is probably the most well-known VoIP service for consumers. However, there are actually many more. Some services are well known and have their own apps. These include Viber and Talkatone. Others do not have an iPhone or Android app, and they might require you to use a third-party app to access their services.
There are hundreds of alternative VoIP service providers to Skype, Viber, Talkatone, or similar, and you can search for them online. Here is a list of VoIP providers in Australia. (In this article on VoIP services, I am making a distinction between services that provide chat and video calls to other users of the same service like Whatsapp, FaceTime, Google Hangouts, or similar, and those VoIP services like Skype, Viber, and others where you can also make calls to landline and mobile phones. This article focuses on the second category of apps.)
The VoIP provider I use is MyNetFone if you want to see what kind of services are typically provided.
By searching online, you can find a list of companies that provide VoIP services in your country. (Try using the search terms VoIP and your country name.) Because some VoIP service providers will allow you to use their service from your home computer, phone, or tablet, technically, you don’t need to sign up with a VoIP service provider in your own country. This is particularly the case if you’re not going to buy or use any of the associated hardware like a phone handset.
Let’s look at how you pay for calls.
You’ll find VoIP service providers will usually offer a range of alternative plans to suit different customers. If you are familiar with Skype and its pricing and plans, you’ll find other VoIP service plans are very similar. A common pricing strategy is where you sign up for a plan and pay a monthly subscription fee. This is the same as you might do for your normal mobile phone plan. Your subscription will usually buy you a certain amount of calling time to a certain country (or countries). Other types of custom packages exist. These might include choices that include unlimited free local or national calls, discounted call rates to mobiles or certain countries, free text messages, and so on. Many VoIP providers will offer several different packages to cater to a wide range of customers.
Another popular option that VoIP service providers offer is ‘pay-as-you-go’ calling plans. Here, call rates vary according to which country you are calling. You simply pay a charge per minute to call a phone in a particular country. There may also be a connection fee. The cost for your calls is deducted from the credit you pay into your account. Just like Skype, the calling rates are usually far less than you would pay than if you used a normal landline or mobile phone.
As someone that travels a lot, I use the service that best suits the circumstances. Sometimes (particularly if I’m just chatting with a friend) it will be Skype. However, my VoIP provider has much cheaper call costs than Skype and delivers far better call quality. I put $50 credit on my account a few years ago and still have credit remaining! If I need to make a paid phone call, quite often I’ll use VoIP instead.
One thing to be aware of when choosing a VoIP service provider is that sometimes a particular VoiP company’s call quality is very poor. So it pays to do some research into the experience other users have had using that VoIP service. It is also prudent to sign-up for the smallest amount of paid credit to ensure the service meets your needs before committing to a more expensive plan.
In a future article I’ll show you how to use VoIP on your Droid or iPhone.