New Technology Can Reduce Telephone Costs
Last week, we talked about monthly bills and using technology to save money.
Sometimes technology adds to our monthly bills, but in some areas, -technology can really cut down our monthly bills. One of the best examples of this is with -telephone costs.
Many of us remember when we all paid a monthly fee to the telephone company for our land line and paid exorbitant rates for long distance service. If you had friends or relatives living far away, those monthly bills could really add up.
You may even remember that when a call from afar would come in, the person who answered the phone would promptly announce that the call was "long -distance" and the recipient of the call would rush over to the phone so the connection time would be kept as short as possible.
Thankfully, all of that is in the past. Technology has brought us many ways to keep in touch with friends, family and business associates around the world quite inexpensively.
There are actually two different technologies that have greatly impacted our telephone-type communications. First is the emergence of cell phones. Today most of us are using cell phones for everyday communications.
Since cell phones work on "minutes" rather than distance, you can basically call anywhere in the United States more economically than you can with the old "long distance" service that the telephone companies provide. Each cell phone company offers somewhat unique features, but all are money-savers.
For instance, some carriers allow you to call anyone else on that carrier at no charge. Some have special evening and weekend rates. Some allow you to list up to 10 telephone numbers that you can call at any time with no charge.
Cell phone charges are generally much more expensive when you want to call overseas, but there is a great technological solution for that, too. It is the second technology that has greatly impacted telephone-type communications. It is called VoIP, which stands for Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP), which uses the Internet to make -telephone calls.
Most of the major telephone and cable companies now offer some sort of "Internet" calling packages. Other companies such as Vonage and Net2Phone have made a splash in this industry.
VoIP allows you to use your -broadband Internet connection to make phone calls. VoIP service through a major carrier often offers additional features that are not -generally offered through a regular telephone service plan. With a VoIP plan from a telephone or cable -company, you can often get voice mail, call forwarding, caller ID and three-way conference calling at no extra cost. Some VoIP providers also offer online account management, online voice mail, detailed call logging and call-forwarding.
You can also use VoIP with any "telephone-type" company involved. You simply use your computer to make calls. Skype is one of the most popular services of this type. And the price is right. Making Skype calls from computer to computer is totally free.
If you hook up two computers that have webcams, you can make video calls where you can see and talk with someone at the same time. You can also call from your computer to land lines and mobile numbers in the United States and Canada for $2.99 a month.
If you don't want to be tied to the computer, you can purchase a Skype telephone that uses your computer to call, while you talk on a traditional-type telephone handset. You can also access Skype from many mobile phones. This lets you place calls without adding to your minutes. There are many Skype competitors like GoogleTalk, Yahoo Messenger and iCall.
There are also other unique VoIP solutions. You may have seen magicJack advertised on late night television. It is a small device that plugs into the USB port on your -computer.
With magicJack, you get your own telephone number. You can make calls right from the computer screen or you can attach a regular telephone to the device and use it to make free phone calls in the United States and Canada.
I have a set of wireless phones attached to the magicJack that allows me to make and receive calls anywhere in the house. If a friend or -relative also has a magicJack, you can make free calls to them even if they are one the other side of the world. magicJack costs about $40 for the device and first year of service and $20 a year for service after that. It's pretty useful and inexpensive.
By the way, if you have a land line telephone number that you want to keep, you can move it (port it) over to a mobile phone. Starting this August, magicJack says it will also be able to use your old -telephone number with the magicJack as well. So you don't even have to give up your old number to use the new technologies.
Whether you use a cell phone or a VoIP solution, you should realize that VoIP calls may not be perfect. Cell phones sometimes drop calls and have areas where you can get service.
Services like magicJack and Skype are dependent on your broadband Internet connection. So if your connection speed is good, the call will be excellent, but if your Internet slows down, you may get a poorer call quality.
Yet, both of these solutions will save you money and you may find, like me, that occasional slight inconvenience is worth the cost savings. I gave up both my business and personal land line almost two years ago. I now rely on my cell phones, Skype and magicJack. I am saving a bundle and enjoying every minute.
Send your computer-related questions for publication in this column to Sandy Berger at Computer Living Corp., P.O. Box 5895, Pinehurst NC 28374; or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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