As disruptive technologies go, few have caused more havoc than VoiP has caused to the communications industry. The ability to sidestep old telephone companies and pay a fraction of their cost while also getting video links and a whole host of other services is causing a shake-up among telephone service providers.
The leader of the disruptive pack is Skype which is now owned by eBay and which has been downloaded over 500 million times.
While Skype enables users to communicate via their computers for free and to receive and send phone calls for a fee, for a long time, at least one side always had to be wedded to their PC or Mac. Today, that’s no longer the case and there are a bunch of different ways of using Skype without touching your computer.
Talk on a Skype Phone
The easiest is to buy a Skype phone. These come in all sorts of forms. The simplest consist of nothing more than a handset and a USB port which plugs into the computer. These sorts of phones let you have a normal chat with a handset rather than through a headset, and you now have something to do with at least one of your hands. They’re cheap too but the computer isn’t included in the price… and you’ll still need one.
Real alternatives include the DualPhone, which also allows landline calls, and the Belkin desktop phone available from this month. Neither of these requires a computer. The phone connects straight into your Internet connection and contains just enough hardware to run Skype.
Route Skype through PBX
Skype phones are neat solutions for individuals but buying new handsets for every office could get expensive for businesses. A better alternative for corporations — or the tech people who work in them — is to route Skype calls through the company’s exchange, or PBX. A number of companies are offering this service, including Skype2PBX.com and VoSKY. Installation is pretty fast and users need only dial a number to get a Skype line instead of a standard land line.
While it might not be an option for the average householder, it could make a good suggestion for a techie looking to impress.
Re-Route the SkypeIn Number
PBX gateways though can be a little costly. According to SkypeJournal though, there’s a much cheaper solution that might be suitable for small businesses. Simply create a Skype Account for a call center and buy a SkypeIn number, allowing the call center to receive calls from Skype. Then redirect that SkypeIn number to the call center using Call Forwarding: Skype>Tools>Options>Call Forward.
This system will only work for incoming calls though so it’s only likely to be helpful if your business gets enquiries from a lot of thrifty tech-heads.
Skype on Mobiles
Handsets and call centers are fine when you’re in the office but many conversations today are made on the hoof through mobile phones. A number of mobile phones offer Skype calling but as they tend to connect through the cell provider’s Internet access, they can be horribly expensive. You’re often better off just calling direct.
To make the most of Skype, you need to be using a mobile device with a wi-fi connection. That cuts the choice to the top-end models but iMate is one firm that appears to have done a good job at integrating Skype into its PDA/phones.
Skype on the iPhone
When it comes to mobiles, the coolest is still the iPhone.
Officially though, Skype doesn’t work on Apple’s machine. Unofficially, the iPhone is just one of the platforms which Shape Services says can take its SkypeforiPhone which doesn’t require a computer running Skype.
Again though, the calls are made using SkypeOut rather than VoiP so they won’t be free, like a PC to PC call. In fact, Shape’s system acts as a gateway rather than enabling direct calls from phone to phone or phone to computer. The service calls your phone back when you place a call then connects you to the Skype contact so you always have to pay — and that’s not including the one-time price of the program.
It could still work out cheaper than calling direct though… and the satisfaction that comes from beating the system is priceless.
Skype on iPod Touch
If avoiding AT&T is worth something, just think of the smile you’ll be wearing when you call with an iPod Touch. In theory, Shape’s program works on the Touch too but it does have a limitation: the iPod Touch doesn’t have a microphone, so you’ll be using Skype to let your thumbs do the talking.
That’s why the clever hackers at Touchmods have created a little gadget that plugs into the bottom of the iPod and functions as a microphone jack. It costs $45 and only allows outgoing calls. You’ll also need to jailbreak your iPod and sign up for a SIP account. The first 1,500 widgets have already sold out and the hackers are already taking orders for the next batch.