Free Calls to Friends: the Story Continues

By: Elisha Burberry

It used to be the case that mobile phones looked like bricks and were not really great value for money. The traditional landline was still cheapest for most calls, and failing that a huge number of phone cards plugged the remaining gap in the market. These could be tricky to buy in a foreign country, but still, they didn't blow your budget and you could let family back home know you were okay.

Today, the situation couldn't be more different. Companies have realised that in this rapidly developing, globalised world there is a huge demand for cheap communication. Mobile phone companies have proliferated and offer competitive packages with various perks: free calls for so many minutes or perhaps a number of free texts to friends. Equally, phones have become Ã?ber trendy, with certain models designed to slip into tiny handbags; others flip stylishly open.

However, although the aesthetic of a phone may matter to some people, customers are most interested in the bottom line - how much does it cost? Probably leading the field in offering cheap or indeed free calls - sometimes to selected friends - are companies providing Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology. This is a category of hardware and software that enables people to use the Internet to make telephone calls. Voice data is sent in packets using IP, instead of traditional circuit transmission of the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) - perhaps better know as the plain old telephone service.

The advantage of VoIP technology is that the user typically only pays for their Internet service, bypassing phone companies and their charges. However, the downside is that they need access to a computer, or at least this used to be the case until very recently. Locating a computer is not such a hardship when many households have at least one and Internet cafes have proliferated around the globe. A number of providers have been trying to make the most of VoIP, including Skype, JAJAH, Yahoo and Lycos.

But most people, who are away from home, perhaps in a different country, find it undesirable to either carry a computer or locate a suitable Internet cafe at every destination they visit. It is at this point that the mobile phone comes into its own, offering a connection to home from all kinds of exotic locations. However, it was still difficult to make cheap mobile calls - or at least as cheap as people were used to getting through Skype, or a competitor.

In response to this problem, software has been developed to allow people to make cheap or free mobile calls to fellow users of Skype, perfectly combining the advantages of both VoIP technology and the mobile phone network. No doubt, Skype's competitors are following suit because in this competitive market providers can't afford to be complacent. Customers, however, can certainly afford to take their time.

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