Ask The Readers: Skype As Replacement Phone Service?

A reader wrote in about using Skype as a replacement phone service. This was good timing because I also wanted to ask about using Skype internationally.

Skype While Traveling Internationally?
I’m preparing for my trip to Spain, and have the following plan for keeping in touch. All calls are routed to my cell phone, which doesn’t work abroad. I am bringing my laptop, so with WiFI I can use SkypeOut to call and check voicemail once a day, at 2.1 cents/minute. I can then make more calls to the US as needed. According to the Skype FAQ, it only matters where I’m calling to, not where I’m calling from. I can even call places in Spain for 2.1 cents/minute.

Am I missing anything with this plan?

My Experiences with Skype
I have used Skype for a few months during a remote work assignment when I had to take long calls that my cell phone plan wouldn’t support. I simply bought a SkypeIn number, which allowed me to take regular phone calls and participate in conference calls. The phone quality was good, but I used it only for a a few months, and always for scheduled calls and with a headset. I never used it with a regular phone, and never had to respond to incoming calls.

Cheap PC-to-Phone Plug Adapter
Here is a D-Link DPH-50U Skype USB Phone Adapter that only costs $10 after rebate ($20 before). It connects to your computer’s USB port, and creates two regular RJ-11 phone jacks that you can plug in traditional landline phone systems. Only works with Windows. The reviews seem to be positive overall. For those with problems, the general consensus seems to be that you need to install the newest Windows Vista drivers from the D-Link website (even if you run XP).

Anyone with experience using this product? I know there are other cool but expensive stuff out there like the Skype WiFi Phone.

If it works, you could replicate a landline for $8/month including taxes. SkypeIn is $60/year ($5/month) and gives you a phone number and unlimited incoming calls, and SkypeOut is $2.95/mo for unlimited calling to US and Canada. Just get one of those combos with multiple handsets and you can still have phones all around the house. (My favorite are Panasonics which take generic NiMH AAA batteries – cheap to replace!)

Cons are that you’d have to connect it to a computer that is turned on all day. Another disadvantage would of course be the inability to make emergency calls. With Skype, you will not get any 911 service – not even the e911 available with some VoIP providers – nor will it work without power and internet access. Not a big deal for the many of us who have already gone cell phone only.

Comments

  1. We use Skype for free computer to computer calls and also have camera. My brother and I converse a few times week and are able to see each other while doing so All the grandkids get to visit with him via computer. Sometimes the pictures are crystal clear and sometimes fuzzy — perhaps dependent on the number of people using it at the same time. If anyone knows why the quality of picture might vary please let me know.

  2. I use OneSuite while travelling, mainly in the US but I also have used it in Europe. You avoid hotel charges because you use local access numbers. People back home can also use it to call your hotel when you are abroad.

  3. I use the VOIP built into my Nokia e71 with VOIPcheap (free US calls, no incoming) to make calls back to the US when I’m abroad.

    Skype is a good service though, and sounds like it’d definitely work for what you need.

  4. Sorry, but I don’t think you can use Skype to check your voicemail. I’ve tried many times and the problem is you can’t get Skype to properly send your voicemail password after you’ve dialed the number. If someone knows differently, please let me know.

    And obviously the quality of your internet connection plays a very large role in the quality of your call. I’ve never had trouble with wired connections but have found wireless connections need to be very good or excellent to work properly and not all hotels have a good wireless network.

  5. I’ve had Viatalk for over 2 years now. Right now they have a promotion for 2 years of service for 200 bucks. I’ve been impressed with the quality of service. With Viatalk (as with vonage, etc), you don’t need a computer for it to work.

  6. This is an excellent plan. I was in Indonesia a few months back, as far from the US as you can be, where cell phone minutes are $5 each and they can barely go 5 minutes without a brown out. Skype and SkypeOut worked great. I was so excited to pay 2.1 cents a minute that I bought a $60 Skype handset for all of my crazy trips.

    I wouldn’t consider it a home landline (or Vonage in my case) replacement, as it can get flaky at times.

  7. I use this exact setup at home, and it works MOSTLY well. There are little tiny things you have to know about when taking your first call (like wait about 3 seconds before you say hello while the DLINK box recognizes you picked the phone up) but otherwise it’s OK.

    MEGA upside: if you disconnect your house from the phone line in from the phone company (at the phone box outside) and put the “out” line from your DLINK into an open phone jack in your house, every phone in your house will ring and be able to be used for making/taking calls over Skype.

  8. I highly recommend not going the closed-in route and use a SIP based provider. That way if you don’t like the service you are getting, you can just go somewhere else and use the exact same equipment. I currently use a Linksys PAP2T with GrandCentral and Gizmo5. With this setup, I have free unlimited incoming phone calls and pay only 2 cents a minute for any outgoing calls I have to make. If at any time Gizmo5 dies or I just hate their service, I can move to any number of other services out there, update my GC forwarding to point to the number at the new service and I am done.

    As a side note, it seems a lot of Skype enabled adapters don’t operate very well. I purchased one from VoSKY and it was the worst purchase I have ever made.

    Another perk about the PAP2T, your computer does not have to be on all day. The same electricity and internet requirements exist though. You can even setup 2 incoming lines. You are free to use any phone you want. Negative: setup for it is rather annoying as it is not made very friendly for a regular end-user. This is the same device that Vonage uses and is designed to be maintained remotely.

  9. I’ve actually been using skype as my home phone for about two years now. Was using Vonage before that but got curious about skype and have never looked back.

    My setup is actually without a computer involved at all.

    I use the linksys phone. Bought one on amazon for about $100.00 figuring it was a one time expense. It has worked out pretty well thus far. The phones base station plugs into my home router and the handset is actually a cordless phone (clunky design but it works really great :-)). The phone itself has a skype client in it. So no need to turn the PC on at all. As long as the router is on everything is golden.

    The voice quality has definitely improved over the time I’ve used it. It’s gone from good to great.

    The wireless skype phones that connect to the wireless routers directly might actually be a better option (no base station involved) but they were not cheap when I bought my phone. I’ve also heard they have battery and heating issues but since I’ve not used them I can’t really comment on those.

    I do use the skype client on my PC regularly too but that’s when I want to use the video chat component. Been pretty happy with that too.

  10. That requirement for keeping the computer on is a killer. I tried MagicJack and it worked ok for doing outbound calling, but keeping the computer on wasn’t practical as I couldn’t let the computer go to low power mode (even just powering off the hard drive wouldn’t work as hard disk activity was continuous). I don’t have a landline at home as I rely on my cell phone, but to allow me to have a line for the kids to use as much as they wanted, MagicJack was great as the computer was always on when they were home anyways.

  11. You **can** use Skype without a computer on. I have been using Skype as my home phone service for almost a year and so far I’m very satisfied. I bought a no-pc-required Philips voip81 Skype phone (sadly these have been discontinued by Philips).

    We are not concerned about 911 because we still have our cell phones, so my only complain about Skype is that even if you buy a Skype-in number, when you make a call it shows as unavailable in other peoples phones. This might be a big issue if you have friends or relatives who have set-up blocks for unidentified caller id numbers

  12. I use Skype as my home phone. I’m also an IT guy so I can tell you exactly how it works.

    You know how AT&T, Vonage, Time Warner – they all offer digital phone service? Well Skype is esentially the same service. There are some key differences. Skype does not offer 911 calling (you have to use the local phone number for service) nor does it offer portability on phone numbers. Both of these features not being offered are why they are able to offer service for approximately $92 a year (30 a year for unlimited outbound, and 60 or so a year for a phone number that people can call. if you just want outbound, don’t fuss with the inbound number and just get SkypeOut)

    How SkypeOut works is like this:

    You sign up based on what country you WANT TO CALL. Let’s say USA, since that’s where I’m from. You can now call USA/Canada for free. Unlimited minutes. Period. It doesn’t matter if you travel over to Japan, you can still use your Skype service and call US/Can numbers for free.

    How SkypeIn works:

    You sign up for a local number to . . . wherever. Let’s say Cleveland, OH area, since that’s where I’m from. People can call that number and pay the rates based on calling that locality. If they’ve got a Verizon cell phone, for example, they should be able to call you for free (free long distance across US with Verizon’s Nationwide or America’s Choice plans)

    With that said, Skype should be considered a very feasible home phone replacement. Don’t make it your ONLY phone, as you should still have 911 access from wherever you are.

    Information on getting an Online Number
    http://www.skype.com/intl/en/a.....inenumber/

  13. Ignore the last bit about the caller ID issue.. I just found out that Skype added Caller ID for U.S recently; it’s just that you need to manually enable it:

    http://www.downloadsquad.com/2.....can-users/

    Go Skype! :)

  14. skype is over-rated. Use a program that utilizes the sip protocol through voipcheap, voipbuster, voipstunt, voipraider, poivy … etc. You can also set up your cell phone through a SIP program, to allow you to make voip calls. The voip services described above offer free calls to most western countries. Use skype if you’re doing computer to computer or video. For anything else, it’s overpriced and non-competitive.

  15. Hey Jonathan;

    I’ve primarily used SkypeIn as well as some Skype-to-Skype.

    The stuff works just as well as anything else I’ve found. Even based on the options above, I don’t think you’re going to find anything at the same price point that’s significantly better/worse.

  16. In most US locales, a phone plugged into your wall jack will be able to call 911 regardless of the status of your service. So you can always keep one (or more) old phone plugged in a central location in the house and not be without emergency services. I’m sure most without a landline are already aware of this, but it is usually the last thing that keeps people hanging on to that $30 a month bill for your stripped down unused phone service.

  17. rubin pham says:

    skype works for me when i travel around asia this year.

  18. ThePessimist says:

    What Ben said is absolutely NOT true. If you don’t have dial tone, you can’t call 911 from a landline. There won’t even be power to make the phone work.

    He may be confusing this with cellular service. A cell phone can call 911 even without service.

  19. I use Skype and it has saved me hundreds… I’m in a rural area and DSL is the best internet available. The drawback being I have to have basic phone service… I can make local calls and people can call me / leave messages. I do not have a cell phone.

    The rest is done by Skype. I spent 10 for unlimited in 2007… That went up considerably in 2008, so I went pay as I go. So far I’ve used about 4.5 for all of my long distance calls in 2008.

    Works great for me, but I’m almost always at a computer and don’t make a ton of phone calls.

  20. why not use T-Mobile Home, ten dollar a month for all over US………..

  21. The skype setup works in principle. The main drawback is that you’ll need wifi access. And while a hotel can advertise wifi as being available, it might cost 14.99 EUR a day (like in pretty much any 3+ star hotel in US these days). Or be available only in the lobby (like one 4 star place in Italy that was, amusingly, sitting in the middle of manure-smelling field in the middle of nowhere). Or not work at all (at another place in Germany I ended up fixing hotel’s wifi).

    Another thing to keep in mind is the general hassle you have to go through to connect to the network, bring up skype, fight with headset’s wires, etc. Not insurmountable, of course, but this stuff takes time you might have spent more pleasurably experiencing the country you are visiting.

  22. I’ve used Skype from Europe, Asia, and the Pacific. I also use it regularly in the U.S. I’ve got SkypeOut since it gives better quality than my cell phone. Also, there are wifi phones as well as adapters for standard phones that will let you get on Skype without a computer. Personally, I’m hoping that a skype client will show up for some of the new android phones coming out.

  23. Actually Ben was right, AS LONG AS the phone company hasn’t reused the copper between you and the central office for someone else. The problem there lies in the fact that if you discontinue service and your neighbor orders a bare DSL, phone or alarm circuit they will likely grab your pair and you will no longer have dial tone. There is no guarantee that that line will remain ‘active but disabled’ for long.

    Some of the Telco’s around the country even allow the ‘disconnected’ line to make collect calls so long as the dial tone remains.

    Sorry ThePessimist, I know someone who has had a disconnected line ‘working’ for years (they live in public housing) as they have called me numerous times collect. Look it up yourself, it depends on where you live, but some LECs are required to provide a ‘warm dial tone’ if the facilities are available.

  24. I vote for Onesuite.

    I used it from Taiwan; it is a lot better than using Skype which I have also tried.

    We have tried using Skype between the US and Shanghai and it is pretty spotty.

  25. I love skype, that is what i use for my home phone, I got a cordless set from skype. I also have it set up to forward to my cell when no one answers the phone. I also use it to call my parents who live over seas and we use the free computer to computer part for that. When I am over seas I use it to call back home, you can get a wifi handset if you want that will work on any wifi network. What i have also done in places like Dubai where they block things like skype myspace etc. is use vpn to my home router to get around those blockages and still be able to use skype.

  26. hey hamdan i looked into tmobile home but they said i dont qualify with the plan i have from them(two lines on one acct with unlimited cell service for $148). why do you have to qualify? my credit score is 735. do they offer only one special per household. i was at work when they told me so i’ve been meaning to call back…any suggestiions?

  27. To avoid the voicemail charges with Skype, check out YouMail (www.youmail.com). You can listen to your voicemails online, and you can create different messages for different people.

  28. While traveling, I often used yahoo messenger voice out service which worked quite well while I was in Canada and Asia. Yahoo messenger (YM) voice out service is relatively cheaper than skype’s “pay as you go”. YM’s UI is more intuitive than skype’s and pull out all the contacts in yahoo’s email account. Plus one can IM to any msn users from within yahoo messenger.

  29. http://ooma.com

    If you haven’t checked this out yet, you owe it to yourself to do so. Just buy the VOIP hardware and supply your own high speed internet connection and standard RJ-25 phone(s). Check out the reviews on Amazon.com. We’ve had our ooma for three months and it works great. We added the ooma rather than upping our cell phone minutes when we found we were using the phone more (never had a landline).

  30. As an avid traveler, I use Skype a lot and think it is a great tool. I think you got it down and do believe it is a great replacement to phones, especially if you can convince people to sign up for it for free calling.

    Also, as an avid traveler, if you want some tips on how to save money in Spain- let me know! I’ve been there twice!

  31. I’d keep the landline just as a last resort phone for emergencies. While it may be true that you can call 911 on a cell even without service, there’s always that possibility that you might not have a signal (this is way more likely than the landline not working).

  32. We primarily use Skype to Skype video calling feature to keep in touch w family back East (we are now in the Southwest US). Voice and video quality are excellent (we are on cable Internet and recipients on DSL).

    Literally just took a one hour video call from family visiting extended family in Berlin, Germany yesterday. Video quality not as crisp as US-based calls, but voice was rock-solid (they were on DSL). And the price was right (free!). Definitely a viable alternative for you.

    One other suggestion (which you may have already considered). For those regular personal/business contacts whom you will likely have to contact while abroad, you should verify whether they are already on Skype themselves, as making Skype-to-Skype calls would reduce per minute fees you will encounter with SkypeOut.

    Safe travels.

  33. When I moved I went cell phone only, but still needed a landline to send faxes. I signed up for Magic Jack, mostly because it was cheaper than Skype. It costs $40 for the first year which includes the hardware (a usb to RJ45 Dongle) and $20 a year after with unlimited incoming and outgoing calls to the US, Canada, and Western Europe (other countries are a nominal per minute fee). It also doesn’t matter where I am as long as I am connected to high speed internet, so I could be in Spain and make and receive calls to the US (with a US number) at no charge (and the caller would only pay domestic rates).

    I have the incoming calls all routed to my cell phone, which effectively gives me a local number, however the time for the forward to go thru is a bit on the long side.

    For outgoing calls I have had very variable experiences, from excellent to very poor. Most of the problems are on my end, so the person I’m calling doesn’t have any problems. But on my end I hear repeating (like a broken record), delays, and echoes of my voice.
    I’m glad that I have my cell phone as a back up.

  34. I need a landline for my home business, so I’ve hesitated using Skype, esp. since I need to fax periodically.

    After weeks of checking around, the best VOIP I’ve determined is Phone Power (=ViaTalk).

    Like Baughman Says, they have a promotion for 2 years of service for 200 bucks.

    Compared to the VOIP competitors, Phone Power has 911 AND it is based in the USA (so your questions get answered by someone who is American and speaks EnglisH!!)

  35. I have been checking out Ooma myself. The reviews say that the sound quality is excellent and I like the idea of using an old fashioned phone again.

  36. By the way I have been using Skype and like it a lot but Ooma seems like an even more attractive option.

  37. anyone recommend one of these VOIPs for my elderly folks? They aren’t too computer-oriented but have DSL for occasional surfing (which means they won’t have the computer on constantly). I considered magicjack but you need the computer on for that.

    I need something for the tech-level of people who don’t know how to operate a cell phone.

    I’ll look at the Ooma recommended earlier.

  38. Matt- I am definitely interested in ooma to get rid of our landline. Want a referral for their $50 international calling credit?

  39. I miss sunrocket.

  40. Skype is an absolute must in this day and age! That said, I just noticed that Google’s GTalk now has a video chat option . . . is a video to phone to computer option far off?

  41. Like Eric, I also use GrandCentral to forward calls into Gizmo. I used to use Skype for this, but it is free with this solution. I also am able to dial out by calling from within GC which forward the outgoing call back to Gizmo.

    The downside is I think that GC is now in a closed beta.

  42. @SanDance

    I’d love an ooma referral. Not sure what I’ll do with the $50 international credit; guess I’ll have to get some international friends.

    When/if you purchase, please send an email to ooma.refer at gmail dot com with your name, ooma phone number and the name of the reseller where you purchased. Thanks!

  43. Skype is great. We use it at home and at work.

  44. We use SkypeOut for our outgoing calling and a cell phone from Virgin Mobile for incoming. Since most of our incoming is from family, I just call them right back on Skype if they call me and want to chat for a while (they know me well so don’t find it rude). Ends up being $8/month. My husband also has a VoIP phone for his work calls (he works from home) that his employer pays for. It’s upstairs, though, it’s not a cordless phone, and his home office is a mess usually, so his VoIP phone does me no good when I have to take care of kids while using the phone :)

  45. In my experience, it costs around $4 in electric bill per day to keep a computer server running continuously. It may use less power if the computer only routes calls. But even at 50 cents a day in power usage, it may not save you much over the landline.

  46. An Engineer says:

    I have two simple services that do everything you need.
    T-Mobile Hotspot@Home:
    I have a TMobile Hotspot@home (UMA) cell phone which will handoff all calls seamlessly between cellular and wifi. This is my primary phone both at home and abroad. I use this on wifi only whenever traveling. The beauty is that you only ever need 1 phone number and you can receive all txt and voice messages while on wifi (Even internationally) without the need for a PC and complicated adapters.
    For $9.99 extra a month you can even get unlimited WiFi minutes n your account. The only downside is that if a hotspot has a website logon the phone may not work (i.e. Hilton Hotels). However, it works at all Starbucks and any open access point or ones for which you have the password.
    TMobile is even offering free routers with contracts. They offer a small Dlink travel router which would be about the same size as that skype adapter you are looking at.

    VoiceMail Replacement.
    Sign up for http://www.callwave.com for real-time voice-to-text transcriptions of all your voicemail. Your voicemail can then be sent as txt-msg or emails (you can even have the mp3s attached).

  47. For those of you who have had call quality problems, there’s a guide on the Skype website which might be helpful.

    @ Scott – which voicemail system are you using?

    In general, I’m always happy to answer questions about Skype, so please give me a shout :)

  48. Jimmy, I think you meant per month and not per day. The average PC probably draws 50-60W of power, similar to a lightbulb. My old laptop with power management draws less than 20W when idle, so around $2 a month leaving it on 24/7.

    Personally, I have been using magicJack as my main home phone for the past ~1.5 years. It’s not a 100% reliable, but neither is a cell phone. I still have my landline for fax and 911. For long term use, magicJack’s price can’t be beat.

    For travel, it might be cheaper and safer to just get a calling card. Wifi at hotels are expensive.

    Jonathan, I remember you trying out magicJack before. Did you already get rid of it?

  49. Jonathan,

    Not sure if you have heard of Talkster (http://talkster.com). It allows you to make free international calls. It requires a small bit of hassle, but it’s worth it for the free call.

    Basically, both you and the person you’re calling are assigned a local number for each other. When you call someone, the other party would have to call you back with the local number they have for you.

    You can also do this on the computer from within Google Talk (using either the PC client or PC/Mac browsers with the new voice/video chat plugin).
    http://www.gtalk2voip.com/talkster.shtml
    http://mail.google.com/videochat
    http://www.google.com/talk/

  50. i don’t understand why skype has no customer service… i have questions that i would like answers to before i will purchase skype equipment.. such as, will my skype service work if i travel to mexico… with an international plan? acapulco to be exact.? or what additional equipment do i need

  51. @ellie – Skype does have a customer service team; you can find them here :)

    http://www.skype.com/go/help

    You can download Skype to your computer, and it’ll work anywhere you have an Internet connection. You can make calls to other Skype users completely free – subscriptions are handy if you want to call landlines or mobile phones.

    Download here:

    http://www.skype.com/go/download

    and find out about subscriptions here:

    http://www.skype.com/go/subscriptions

    A good headset can make a dramatic difference to sound quality – find out more here:

    http://www.skype.com/go/allfeatures.headsets

  52. I’ve also looked into Skype, but the lack of 911 and number portability has made me hesitate. If ever you need 911 ASAP and your cell phone is uncharged/not easily accessed, you are cooked. It happens.

    The more I read, the more I’m leaning toward OOMA, another 1 time price up front but longterm phone calls. Plus it HAS 911 service, and can port your home phone number.

    Anyone tried this?

  53. 911 for Skype is simple. Get in touch with your local 911 center. You can do this by calling your local police or fire ( at the nonemergency number not 911 ) and asking them for the contact info to the 911 center. When you get in touch with the 911 center in your area, ask them to give you the 10 digit number to 911. They have regular numbers to 911 that they provide to alarm companies that need to call your 911 center from other areas. Print out the number and tape it to the back of your phone with clear tape.

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