Skype LogoSince using it, I now have my whole family using Skype. Some are on Macs, others on PCs, making video conferencing platform independent with Skype has been a great help.

Anyway, video conferencing wasn’t supposed to be the focus of this article. Instead I want to talk about my experience using Skype as a fully fledged office phone line.

Calling Regular Phones

Calling between computers using Skype is completely free, lets get that one clear to start with.

However, Skype also offers the ability to call mobile or land lines with a service called “SkypeOut“. If you are based in USA or Canada, then this service is a flat $14.95 US for a whole year ($29.95 after January 31, 2007). The flat fee gives you unlimited calling to anywhere in the United States and Canada.

Yep, you read that right. Let me repeat; $14.95 for a full year of free calls to anywhere in USA and Canada.

For someone whose business is primarily operated in Canada with clients dotted all over the States, paying $14.95 for a year of phone service is going to save me hundreds of dollars.

Outside of North America you can load up your Skype account with SkypeOut credit, and then call from as little as 0.02c a minute.

What About People Calling You?

SkypeIn

Now, there is one catch. With SkypeOut you can make calls to anyone, but it doesn’t let you receive any calls. You won’t get an incoming phone number unless you subscribe to the “SkypeIn” service. SkypeIn is a one time yearly fee that gives you a dedicated phone number from one of 14 different countries. Interestingly Canada is not currently one of the countries that you can get a phone number from. If anyone knows why, then I’d be interested. I suspect it something to do with Telus or Bell.

Considering most of my clients were in the States, opting for a US number instead of a Canadian number was not a big issue for me. Canadian numbers are formatted identically to US numbers, all that changes is the area code.

The Skype in service costs around $40 US after conversion from euros. You even get the option to pick the number you want, or search for specific number combinations.

What’s The Call Quality Like?

That’s the big question. It’s all very good paying much less for a phone service, but if you end up getting choppy or dropped calls frequently, then it’s not going to be worth it.

My experience with voice quality on Skype so far has been superb. The audio is clear, it hasn’t dropped any calls and the audio has only become choppy in a few isolated cases. Even if a call was choppy in parts it was still better than most cell phone calls and didn’t affect the conversation at all.

As long as you are on a broadband connection and you’re not tying up your bandwidth by downloading large files all day, you can expect to get call quality at least as good as your regular phone line. Using a Wi-Fi connection doesn’t seem to cause any problems either.

I also configured my router’s firewall to allow Skype to make and receive calls directly to my computer without it having to use clever techniques to bypass firewalls. This is supposed to improve call quality and call reliability. It’s dead simple to do, check out these instructions on setting up port forwarding for Skype.

So, You Talk Into Your Computer?

Skype Phones

No. If you are serious about using Skype for making and receiving important calls then it’s definitely worth picking up an actual handset. I picked up a USB desktop phone from Ebay for about $35 US. By using an actual phone with Skype you almost completely forget that it’s running through your computer. You can dial and accept calls all through the handset, and it even rings like a normal phone.

What If My Computer Is Turned Off?

Unless you decide to buy a Skype Wi-Fi Phone that doesn’t need a computer, then you’ll need one to use the Skype service.

This works just fine for me as it’s an office phone, and I’ll have my computer turned on the whole time anyway. However, Skype also offers the ability to forward calls when you are away or have your computer turned off. So if I pop out for a coffee, or even decide to do some work away from an internet connection, I can still get my calls forwarded to my cell phone. I believe this only costs around 1c per minute (you get around an hour of call forwarding credit with SkypeOut).

If you buy a SkypeIn number then you also get free voicemail with Skype. The application will alert you when you have any voice messages as well as the number of missed calls. Without SkypeIn you can get voicemail for around $20 US a year.

Totaling It Up

Overall $14.95 for SkypeOut and $40 for SkypeIn gives me a years worth of calling for just under $55 dollars. That’s basically less than one month of my cell phone service (which charges me 30c a minute long distance).

Even if you don’t want to buy a USB phone to use on top of that, there are some cheap standard phone to USB phone converters available that will let you use your regular phone with Skype.

Skype is a free download for Windows, Mac OS X, Linux and Windows Mobile.