I Think That's Your PC Ringing
Your eyes locked across the rows of business class on an all-night intercontinental flight. Over small bottles of liquor, love arced through the recycled air. Cupid set the mood; it could be up to Internet calling to keep that spark alive.
It's time to rediscover Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP. A few years back the same kids that populated the ham-radio shack in college figured out that with a PC, an Internet connection and some software, you could stick it to The Man and get a free crackly phone line across the world.
Today, that line's much clearer and the phone call isn't totally free, but you have several plans and technologies from which to choose. If you've got heavy calling to make to faraway places, you'd be crazy not to take a look. If you're just curious about how it all works, the technology is easy to set up and you'll be calling in no time, but you probably won't give up the convenience of your plain old telephone.
VoIP calls bypass some or all of the expensive switching fees of the local and long-distance network operators by sending calls over the Internet. Consumers can talk over the Internet three ways: from a PC to another PC user, from a PC to a phone user, or phone to phone. The phone-to-phone calling is not sufficiently novel for our purposes -- customers call an 800 number using services such as Dialpad and Net2Phone and get cheaper rates by being connected through IP networks. We're interested in the calling you can do from your computer.PC-to-PC calling is the cheapest option, and you might just be set up to do it already if you use AOL (AOL) Instant Messenger version 4.0, released in April 2000, or more recent editions that come with AOL Talk. When you initiate an instant message with a friend, you have the "talk" option, which patches you through for free to anyone using AIM. The quality is so-so, with some crackling and a muffled sound to the call, but the price is right.
Using your computer for voice communications
|AOL Talk and Windows Messenger (PC to PC)||They are free, and come with the IM you already use.||You get what you pay for in iffy quality.|
|Dialpad (PC to phone)||The software is only 300 Kb and is the easiest to get running||Calling rates are a little higher.|
|Net2Phone (PC to phone and PC to PC)||Domestic rates are cheaper and the sound quality is great.||At 1.87MB, the download is a little hefty.|
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