Australians are an international bunch. More than a quarter of us were born in a country other than Australia, and we’re heading abroad more often. So it comes as no surprise that many of us often need to contact friends and family overseas. The trouble is, if you’re not careful, that overseas phone call can cost an arm and a leg. Luckily, there are now plenty of options that can take the sting out of your next phone bill.
In this article you will find information on:
What is VoIP?
Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) allows phone calls to be made over the internet, as opposed to the so-called public switched telephone network (PTSN). VoIP services offer free or low-cost calls overseas, as well as locally.
Call quality for users of VoIP has improved, with the Australian Communication and Media Authority (ACMA) even claiming that VoIP reception can now be superior to landlines. According to ACMA, “VoIP services often provide a better-quality voice transmission than expected… Some VoIP services offer an enhanced audio quality not available on PSTN lines.” However, there are many variables that can compromise reception, including internet congestion and poor reception, and some users have reported continuing problems.
There are many VoIP options available. Some services require both the maker and receiver of the call to be using the same service, while others allow you to call any number in almost any country. We take a look at a couple of the options available here in Australia.
VoIP veteran Skype
remains a firm favourite with CHOICE members. In our recent survey, 36.5% of nearly 4000 respondents told us they’d used the service to make calls.When you download Skype on your computer (or as an app on your tablet or phone), you can make voice and video calls directly from one user to another for free, or call landline or mobile phones around the world at cheap, per-minute, or flat monthly rates. You can even make group video calls.
Skype also sells dual mode phones, which give you a normal phone plus VoIP on a single handset. The main advantage is that the handset isn’t physically connected to the computer. One Skype user shared a positive experience with this setup. “It's generally quite good, although the line is never as clear on Skype as it is if you call on your landline,” he said. “Sometimes you have to call a couple of times to get a clear line without any noise, and sometimes it cuts out mid-conversation.”
- Skype is cheap and easy to use.
- It allows you to call regular phone numbers, though this service does cost money.
- As it is hugely popular, there’s a good chance you can make free calls to your Skype-ing friends.
- Skype Number is a paid service that gives you a normal landline phone number that people can dial, which is diverted to your Skype account. This is a good solution for those wanting to set up cheap calls to themselves for their less tech-savvy parents, for example.
- Group video calls cost extra.
- Credit expires after 180 days of inactivity.
- Some Skype plans also include a one-off connection (flagfall) fee every time a call is made. As Skype reception can be patchy you may need to call a few times to get a good line, which can eat into your credit.
- As with most VoIP services, you also need a working internet connection, whether on your phone or computer.
Viber allows you to text, call, have group conversations and share pictures with other users. It is easy to use – the joining process is quick and doesn’t require you to add your contacts manually. Once you sign up and enter your mobile phone number, Viber syncs your contacts, messages and call history with your mobile.
The trouble is, this convenience comes at a price – privacy. According to Viber
, “when you install the [app] and register on the site, you will be asked to provide us with your phone number and to allow us access to your mobile device's address book”. This information is used to tell you when a person in your contacts signs up to Viber and whether they're available to chat.
- Viber is free, convenient, and available for most platforms and operating systems.
- Free group calls are supported.
- You can only call other people who have Viber.
- The storage of your contact book, with neither your express permission nor the permission of third parties, is a concern.
- You must be online to use it.