Friday, 27 May 2011

ET Phone Home - alternatives to Skype (VoIP)

Many people living overseas will often find the need to make calls to their home countries (or indeed elsewhere) to keep in contact with friends and family. Choose the wrong way of doing this and it can get expensive, especially if your need to make such calls is more frequent than others!!

Skype has proved to be a very popular solution for many over the years, particularly those from Europe. Skype also benefits from having the ability to chat for free to a user who is also using the Skype application on either a PC, Mac or smartphone. Skype may not always be the cheapest option though and, as with any "Voice over Internet Protocol" (VoIP) service, the sound quality can vary considerably, and this is particularly the case when chatting to another Skype user through the direct application.

My friend Mario in Penang mentioned the VoipStunt service he uses with considerable success whilst in Malaysia to call friends and family in Europe and elsewhere. This is a German based company and you basically sign up with them and pay a 10 euro credit which lasts for 120 days. Once paid you can actually make FREE landline calls to many countries (subject to fair usage) and make calls and send SMS at very reasonable rates to others and /or mobiles etc. Details of the charges can be found here.

One problem with Voipstunt is that its software is Windows based but if you are on a Mac you can get round this by downloading the free (and very good) X-Lite 4.00 software from Counterpath who are one the leading 'soft-phone' developers. Do not confuse X-Lite with the ads that will pop up for Briar 3 which is the "paid for" soft-phone which has many more "bells and whistles" on it than most people will need. Xlite is a SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) application which displays as a telephone on your screen an interacts with the VoIP provider (in this case VoipStunt) of your choice. You just have to programme in which one you use and instructions on how to do this are also provided by VoipStunt here under "Using a SIP device". Users of Smartphones, including the iPhone, Android and Nokia phones, will also be able to configure VoipStunt to work using one of the popular SIP apps such as 'Fring'.

I have signed up to Voipstunt but have yet to try it for calls. It certainly seems popular with many users though and I plan to give it a try. It may turn out to be cheaper / better than Skype and once I have given it some protracted testing I'll report back with a comparison review.

ADDENDUM: I did try a call on VoipStunt from the UK to an agent in Penang. The call lasted about 20 minutes, was to a mobile and my credit dropped by about 1 Euro. The call quality was excellent at both ends.

VoipStunt also allows very cheap SMS to be sent via their Windows desktop client or the web interface. I have also found an iPhone application, VoipStunt SMS, which I have downloaded and plan to try both in terms of reliability and to compare costs to Skype.

I also hope to find a good Mac desktop SMS client that may make life easier than using the web interface.

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