My sister went sightseeing around Europe recently, and she used her AT&T cellphone to keep in touch throughout. When she came back with a few European knick knacks to show for her adventures and a cell phone bill worth about $1550, it got me thinking. For many European countries, AT&T will charge you something like $1.29 for each minute you call back home. If you want their top-of-the-line cheap rate, you’ll need to get their special international calling plan. Surely there has to be better way to make cheaper overseas calls when you are out of the country? If you happen to have a Blackberry or an iPhone, you could easily set it up to make free calls home with WiFi, or, if you want to go the regular route, at no more than about two cents a minute.
How you ask? Why, with Skype or any number of competing services, of course. Skype has a twelfth of the world’s human population locked up (figuratively, not literally). Whoever you want to call, is probably on it. It used to be when it started out that you needed to crowd around your computer to use Skype; but these days, smart phones have got pretty good at it too. Setting your smartphone up to this is pretty easy. Make sure that it can do WiFi. Using WiFi, gives you much better voice quality than regular cell networks can. But if you don’t have it on your phone, you could alternatively just call and use several local phone services in the country you are in, that will put you on Skype. You can do this even if you do not have a smartphone. You would be charged just for what you would expect for a local call. They take you on Skype.
There are so many apps out there for your smartphone that will help you make cheap overseas calls. First up is Skype for Mobile; load it onto your smartphone, and you can make free calls to any Skype user in the world. You can also call regular phones that are not Skype-capable, for payment to Skype. There are several versions available for the iPhone, for Android phones and for Windows mobiles. The connections never seem to suffer for being routed through unconventional means, and no one ever complains about voice lag or anything. But if you are calling with Skype Lite, you will have to remember that you will be billed for your local call charges.
So what is life like outside of Skype? Well, how about Fring or Truphone? If you have a smartphone, an Android one, Fring will work just fine. You can call all registered Fring users for free anywhere in the world, and you can connect to Skype, MSN Live or Google Talk users too. But these calls when ported through on regular cell phone networks are not the best it must be admitted. There is indeed time lag (the gearheads call it latency) between when you say something and when it is heard, and the connection is not the strongest either. You’ll often find that your call gets dropped. Apparently, 3G was not designed for such intense use. With Fring in WiFi mode, not only do all the problems evaporate, but you can even make video calls on your cell phone too. All you need is a phone with a camera that faces front and not only do you have cheap overseas calls in the palm of your hand, you have a videoconferencing tool too. Even Skype doesn’t have this.
Pretty soon, people will be using these to not just make cheaper overseas calls, but for calls within the country too.