Keeping in touch with friends and family at home when you are living or travelling abroad used to be an expensive luxury, but the internet has changed all that. It is not just about keeping a travel blog, emailing the latest news or even instant messaging: service providers using Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) can help you access low-cost – or even free –telephone calls home, wherever you are in the world.
There are three types of VoIP solutions available. With hardware based solutions you get a dedicated hardware router that connects your modem to your phone so you can make and receive phone calls just like before, but they are actually routed through the internet. Software based solutions are installed on your computer or smartphone to allow you to make calls over the internet. Internet based solutions are accessed via a web page that you visit or by using direct access numbers you can call from a traditional phone.
Hardware based VoIP solutions
Vonage makes your VoIP experience very similar to a traditional telephone service. Simply plug the Vonage adapter into an internet connection and then connect a phone to the adapter. Although you need an internet connection, you do not necessarily need a computer.
The beauty of Vonage (http://www.vonage.co.uk) is that you can choose your phone number. You can select a local number for your friends and family so they can call you at local rates, whilst you can call them – and others based all over the world – and benefit from the low call rates offered by Vonage. You can travel with your home phone number and receive calls on it by taking the Vonage box with you and plugging it in wherever you are based. Vonage to Vonage calls are free so you can save even more if others are already using the service.
Skype is best known for offering voice or video calls through the computer, but it also offers an accessible hardware solution that could help save you money whilst travelling abroad. With a Skype phone you can make calls over the internet without a computer. There is no subscription but you will need to buy the phone. Calls to other Skype users are free and there are substantial savings on calling other international numbers.
Software based VoIP solutions
Most people’s first introduction to internet based telephone services is probably through services like Skype, which allow you to make voice and video calls through a computer. Skype Lite is available for smartphone users making this a very portable VoIP service for travellers. There are free calls to other Skype users and unlimited call packages to nominated countries for low monthly rates. If you buy a personal phone number you can let friends and family contact you wherever you are at a local rate.
Other providers offering services similar to Skype include Windows Live Call, Yahoo! Voice, WengoPhone, Pfingo, Vopium and Truphone.
Internet-based VoIP solutions
You can make cheap international phone calls over VoIP without even having an internet connection – as long as you have a landline or mobile. To do this you first dial a hotline before dialling the number you wish to reach. Other services are accessed by entering the number you wish to call on a web page and it will route a call through your phone. Internet-based providers include Jaxtr, Jajahand Rebtel.
However you choose to access them, VoIP calls can make calling home from abroad so much cheaper. This means you can stay in touch easily and without feeling limited in how long or how often you talk.