Travel Technology: Low cost voice calls around the world
This is the third in the Travel Technology series by our tech expert Doug Krug. So far, Doug has given us Travel Technology: keep your photos and files safe in the cloud and Travel Technology: Increase your security and reduce costs. This time he turns his attention to helping us stay in touch by phone.
UPDATE FROM DOUG:
AUGUST 25, 2014
On my recent trip to LA, I tested five mobile VoIP apps on my iPhone to see if there had been any significant improvements – Skype, Talkatone, Ooma mobile app, Text+ and Hushed. Of the five, Hushed performed the best, with voice quality that was equal to a standard cell phone call and no problems receiving incoming calls or placing calls.
Note for iPhone users – You can send and receive iMessages to other iPhone users for free as long as you have a data connection.
And now, the original post…
Life is rich with reminders of our humanity and how prone to mistakes we are. Just when you think you’ve got the fool-proof system, you’re reminded of how foolish of an idea that is.
I’m not talking about when technology we use fails, as it sometime does, but more when we fail to anticipate our tendency towards error. On occasion we overlook email and text messages, or irritate each other with an unintended “Tone” when they’re hastily written.
Just call me
Sometimes the human gift of speech is still the best form of communication.
The final resolve; old faithful – The phone call.
Today we use phrases like “email me”, “text me”, “message me”, etc. But, the standout catchphrase, “just call me” speaks volumes to the simplicity of a phone call.
Voice over the internet
In the early days of internet, its use would have been impossible without technical literacy. Today the technology advancements have forever changed that landscape.
Voice over Internet Protocol or VoIP for short, is a technology that converts our spoken word to data, sends it near completely intact as bits of data over the internet and reassembles it on the receiving end as voice.
The magic is when you realize what this means to our communication potential. Not only can we contact anyone via email, or messaging, but a phone call that traditionally would have been expensive and sometimes filled with static noise, is for the most part, now clear and often free.
The gift of speech
In almost inexplicable perpetuity, the technology sector has ended the rein of oppressive long distance charges. You are now able to make and receive calls to anywhere in the world for a few pennies per minute or no charge at all in certain circumstances.
Technology has advanced dramatically for what now seems to some, an ancient form of communication. Empowering near limitless voice communication around the world in places where cellular and high speed internet access is prevalent.
The following four VoIP services are just a fraction of the available solutions for cloud based phone calls, but they are acclaimed for their high quality, low cost and ease of use.
Without a single ad or pushed promotion, Google has been offering Google Voice to US residents since 2009 and, to a limited extent, Canadians can make free phone calls from within Gmail and now via Google Hangouts as well. With a little creativity, it’s also possible for anyone to obtain a US based Google Voice phone number, even if you don’t reside in the US. Having a Google Voice number allows you to text and place calls to anywhere in the US and Canada for free and lets you receive phone calls from anyone on your free US phone number.
If you live in the US, you can transfer your cell phone number to Google Voice for $20, allowing you to forward calls to any US based number. This enables maximum flexibility to change cell phone carriers without having to move your number to a new carrier each time. Free call forwarding to landlines and other VoIP services is also supported.
Google Voice offers:
- Free US and Canada calling, free SMS texting, and low cost international calling
- Voicemail, call forwarding to multiple numbers at once, per number time-based call routing and spam call filtering
- Automatic text transcriptions of your voicemail.
Google Voice uses automated, non-human voice-to-text transcription. Your results and level of amusement may vary.
Now often a generic name for online video chat, Skype is also a decent alternative to the traditional landline or mobile phone call. Unlike Google Voice, to make free calls Skype requires both parties to have Skype software installed on either a computer or a smartphone. Alternatively, at least one person must have a special Skype-ready telephone or adapter.
For a small fee, you can receive calls from anyone calling you from a regular phone on your personal Skype phone number, available in 24 countries.
- Voicemail, messaging, video chat, low cost international calls, file sharing
- Make calls to landlines, cell phones or other VoIP phones with “Skype OUT”
- Receive calls from landlines, cell phones or other VoIP phones with “Skype IN”
- Skype software is available for Mac, PC, or as an App for smartphones.
- Skype is possible from within Outlook.com email
Not all Skype services are free, some are fee based.
When it comes to calls from your smartphone, Hushed is one of the most convenient for the solo traveler. Available for iOS or Android, the Hushed app gives you privacy, security and portability without roaming charges by utilizing cloud based VoIP phone, SMS and voicemail.
- As many instant private local numbers as you need in over 40 countries
- Private voicemail
- Use any WiFi or the cellular data from your smartphone, to make calls or send SMS text messages
- North American numbers are renewable from 7 days at a time for $1.99 and up to a year at a time for $29.99
- 30 day Pay As You Go worldwide numbers for $4.99
You can add minutes or SMS usage to Hushed via in-app purchase at anytime.
If lowering your phone costs at home and on the road means using a landline phone, you cannot go wrong with Consumer Reports #1 rated phone system, Ooma. Once setup, you can take your Ooma Telo box with you anywhere in the world.
Janice switched her home phone to Ooma in May and loves it. Although an initial $150 investment is required to purchase the Ooma Telo box, once in place, you will enjoy HD Quality sound for only $4 in local taxes and 911 fees for the Basic service or $14 per month in total for the Premium service.
The base charge of local taxes and 911 fees varies from city to city.
You can transfer your landline, cell or existing VoIP number to Ooma. If you purchase a year of Premium Service in advance, your number will be transferred to Ooma for free. Friends and family can call you at your local number and it will ring a regular telephone connected to your Ooma Telo box. Calls you make to anywhere in North America will still be free, no matter where in the world you are.
- HD Quality Voice calling using standard landline phones
- Free nationwide US, Canada and low cost international calls
- Voicemail, Call Waiting, Enhanced Caller ID
- Voicemail to email audio attachments or text notifications
- Voicemail to text transcription service (optional)
- E911 service, online call logs, call forwarding and spam call blocking
- Two separate phone lines
- Google Voice Extensions
- Ethernet or WiFi connectivity
- Ooma VoIP software is also available for iOS and Android
Some Ooma features require a Premier subscription.
With so many free and low cost VoIP options available, isn’t it time you called home?
Next time, I’ll tell you about cloud apps that allow you to keep everything, on all your devices in sync, no matter where you travel.
Have fun – Doug