Now consumers and businesses alike can reduce hefty long distance bills by making PC-to-phone calls over the Internet, instead of over standard phone lines. Internet telephony technology allows phone calls to be carried over the public Internet as packets of data.
All of these services are a little bit different in how they charge for making calls. Some services are completely free like dialpad.com, which gets its revenue from advertisers. Others, like Deltathree.com, offer free calls to the U.S. and Canada, but charge per-minute rates for international calls. They also offer a monthly flat rate option. Global Dialtone requires an initial credit deposit. Overall the rates for Internet calls are still a good value compared to traditional long distance phone calls, but be sure to find out the rates before making the call.
Users only need basic PC equipment to make calls over the Internet. Standard hardware requirements usually include a sound card, a microphone and speakers, or a headset. Many of today's multimedia PCs may already have this equipment included. A "full duplex" sound card is required for clear conversations where both callers can talk at the same time. A "half duplex" card works more like a walkie-talkie.
Making an Internet call is as easy as picking up the phone. But getting started usually requires first registering on one of the many Web sites offering Internet telephony services and downloading a small client application onto your computer. Then type in the desired telephone number and start talking into your PC microphone or headset.
The only downside to using these services is voice quality. When using Internet telephony, periods of high-volume traffic can cause delays that result in poor quality. However, as Internet bandwidth and connection speeds increase, so does call quality. In general, if your connection is less than 28.8Kbps, forget about using these services. We recommend a 56Kbps connection to start with.
Deltathree.com offers free PC-to-phone calls in the U.S. and Canada. Two separate options are available for international calls. For $9.95 a month, the flat rate plan offers unlimited calls to the U.S. and Canada, along with 250 free minutes to Western Europe, Australia, and Hong Kong. The pay by the minute plan includes any country and is billed in six-second increments. To use the free call plan, download the software and start calling. System requirements are a Windows 95/98/NT PC, speakers and microphone, Deltathree.com's software, and a Deltathree.com account.
Deltathree.com Inc.; 877-446-3719; www.deltathree.com; Free calls within the U.S. and Canada, international plans available
With Dialpad.com it's possible to make free PC-to-phone long distance calls. Dialpad.com eliminates long distance charges by utilizing GTE's private, high quality VOIP network, and not the public Internet. All users need to start making calls is a 33.6K or greater Web connection, a PC microphone, and a sound card. There is no client to download. The Dialpad.com desktop application window pops up when the user's account is accessed. Users need a browser with Java support.
Dialpad.com Inc.; 408-514-6429; www.dialpad.com; Free
Global Dialtone also uses a separate, secure network that allows PC-to-phone communication. Calls made from a PC travel toll-free over the Internet to the company's Global Dialtone Telecommunications network, which connects calls to any telephone number worldwide. Calls from any country to the U.S. can cost as little as 9 cents a minute. Calls to Canada are 13.9 cents per minute, and calls to the U.K. are 14.9 cents per minute. Requirements include a PC sound card, microphone and speaker, and audio conferencing software, such as Microsoft NetMeeting. If you don't have NetMeeting, a free download is available at www.globaldialtone.com.
Global Dialtone; 561-223-4120; www.globaldialtone.com; An initial credit deposit of at least $25 is required, international rates vary
Net2Phone not only allows users to make PC-to-phone calls, but also PC-to-PC calls. Users pay 3.9 cents a minute for calls within the U.S. and as little as 5 cents a minute for calls to the U.S. from any other country. PC-to-PC calls can be made for free. Users designate a Net2Phone nickname during registration and receive calls on Net2Phone software via their nickname. Net2Phone also offers the free service VoicEmail for sending or receiving recorded, instead of typed, e-mail messages. Free PC-to-Fax services are also offered and can be sent to virtually any fax machine at the same rates as the PC-to-Phone service. Requirements include: Net2phone software (downloadable from the site); Windows 95/98/NT 4.0;c a Pentium PC with a 100MHz or higher processor; 8MB of RAM; a 28.8Kbps or faster modem; sound card, microphone, and speakers.
Net2Phone Inc.; 877-N2PHONE; www.net2phone.com; 3.9 cents a minute for calls within the U.S., international rates vary