Many of you have probably already heard about VoIP, or voice over IP. This is a technology that allows you to make telephone calls using internet. With VoIP you can save money on your monthly bill, get inexpensive or even free long distance, plus get loads of extra services without any additional cost. Unless you have lots of time to explore more than 1100 VoIP providers that exists today, you will probably want to simply decide between two choices: Vonage or Skype.
In world of VoIP you have two basic options; you can get "regular phone replacement with lower monthly phone bills" option (Vonage) or you can get "plug a phone into my computer and it costs me nothing" option (Skype).
If you go for Vonage, everything works pretty much like it works today with your home phone. The main differences are:
1) Your phone bill is somewhere between 15$ to 25$ a month. 2) You get inexpensive long distance rates, free if you are talking to another customer who uses Vonage. 3) You get a bunch of features included in price. (VoiceMail, Call Forwarding, Caller ID, Call Waiting etc..) 4) You have a "box" that sits between your computer and your internet connection. (This box will cost you 50$ to 100$)
You will keep your current phone number. You will have 911 service (FCC has mandated that VoIP providers such as Vonage provide full 911 service by ~September, 2005). You will have a nice web interface to all your fancy new phone features. You will get some pretty good customer service. If you want to keep your regular phone wiring you can do that too, though you will need to be a bit of a handyman type.
On top of this, you get some nifty extra benefits. For example, if you travel frequently you can take your "box" with you, plug it into any internet connection, plug a phone into box and it's like you are sitting at home with your telephone!
Finally, Vonage is a reasonably large, aggressive company. This means they want your business and they are willing to fight for it. You can expect their prices to be competitive and to remain competitive. For more information you can go to their web site www.vonage.com. Don't forget that you should already have a high speed internet connection before using Vonage (or Skype).
Now, if you go for "plug a phone into my computer and it costs me nothing" option then you want Skype. Skype is free, Skype is easy to use and Skype works. All you have to do is download, install and start using it. It is completely painless. If you are like me, you will start using Skype because you want to stop paying for long distance. My mother lives in Czech Republic. In Czech Republic it costs a lot of money to call North America. I told her to get Skype, now she calls me all time. Good thing Skype has VoiceMail!
After you get used to paying nothing for long distance, you will begin discovering some of Skype's other options. As of June, 2005 Skype has following options: