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Once you've chosen a Service Provider, you'll need to open an account and deposit funds into that account. If you're reluctant to use your credit card online, many of PC to Phone companies offer alternative forms of payment (e.g., PayPal, direct deposit, wire transfer, etc.). Next, you'll need to download 'softphone' application from your service provider. A softphone is merely interface program through which you dial number of person you're calling and usually only takes a few minutes to download on even slowest 'dial-up' Internet connections. Softphones generally resemble keypad on conventional telephones and work in much same way. Depending on your service provider, manner in which you 'dial out' will vary. Typically however, softphone will take into account where you are in world and adjust dialing settings accordingly. In other words, you'd dial exact same series of numbers into softphone that you would if you were using a conventional telephone.
Once you've made a few calls to friends and family around world using your computer, you'll quickly realize fantastic cost advantages of making 'PC to Phone' calls versus 'Phone to Phone' calls.
So what's catch?
Whilst PC to Phone is terrific, it isn't perfect. There are some disadvantages that you should be aware of and these include:
a) Quality: If you access Internet via a 'dial-up' connection (i.e., through a normal telephone line), you may experience call quality degradation if you are surfing web and talking to someone via PC to Phone at same time. In other words, 'bandwidth' or 'capacity of your Internet connection' may be limited and this could affect your calling ability.
b) Echo: If you're using computer speakers to hear person you're talking to, that person may hear an 'echo' of their own voice. This happens for reasons similar to that encountered with 'speakerphone' function on conventional telephones. At same time as you hear that person's voice coming through your computer speakers, your microphone will also detect voice and re-transmit signal back to person you're talking to.
This 'echo' can easily be avoided by using either a computer headset or by turning your speaker volume down so as to minimize chance of your microphone picking up and retransmitting incoming voice signals.
c) Cost: If you're calling relatively small and/or remote countries, you should check rates of PC to Phone Service Providers' to those countries before signing up for their PC to Phone service. For example, calling a country like Fiji in Pacific Ocean is almost as expensive using PC to Phone as it is using a conventional telephone. The reason for these high rates to certain countries is due to PC to Phone Service Provider not having necessary switching equipment (required for switching your call back to traditional telephone network from Internet) physically located in that country. In these scenarios, your calls are routed through traditional telephone network for a good proportion of distance they travel and as such they attract many of long-distance charges that traditional networks impose. If you'd like to call one country in particular, it's definitely worth shopping around to find out whether prospective PC to Phone companies have necessary switching equipment located in that country (and hence, can pass on savings to you in form of cheaper rates).
So give PC to Phone a try. You've really nothing to lose and have potential to save yourself a lot of money.
Nathan is the owner of http://www.netphonedirectory.com which deals specifically with PC to Phone and PC to PC VoIP. The site includes a comprehensive directory of PC to Phone service providers as well as general information on VoIP and what you need to make inexpensive long-distance telephone calls using your computer