Monday, 30 November 2009

PC-to-Phone VoIP Calling - Part-2

I will assume you have already read   PC-to-Phone Calling - Part1.

Now, the question is:  does your VoIP provider support PC-Phone calls? Not all do. For example, I like using Google Talk for PC-PC calling, but Google Talk does not (at time of this writing) support PC-Phone calls. (And yes, there are services that provide Google Talk gateways for PC-Phone calling, but that is a topic for another time.)

Services that do provide PC-Phone calling often call it “Call-Out” service. However, in the pure-play VoIP world, it is referred to as "Termination Service".  The only catch to subscribing to their Call-Out services is that you usually have to pre-purchase Call-Out “minutes”, termination minutes, or time in bulk. On average, the minimum requirement is usually to purchase $10 worth of calling time up front to fund your upcoming calls.

When first testing a new service, I always purchase the minimum required minutes. This allows for limited testing before committing to larger amounts. Then, once the initial minutes are used up, it is just a matter of “topping-up” or, as they often call it, “recharging” your account with more minutes.

Now, there are plenty of other services offering PC-Phone Call-Out connectivity and minutes. I have tested a few others using their proprietary softphones (and some using an unbundled configurable softphone).  Currently, CallCentric is my preferred PC-to-Phone calling service.

Oh yes, did I mention the most important point concerning PC-Phone calling – cost.
PC-Phone calls are usually charged by the minute. Some services charge by fractions of a minute(6 second increments) and some charge rounded-up to the next full minute. Again, this varies from service to service. And, it pays to read your service provider’s “fine print”, as there are often if’s, and’s, or but’s concerning the real cost of a call (like a connect charge... Skype charges a connection charge...).  It’s amazing the different pricing schemes VoIP service provider seem to come up with – which makes it almost impossible to make clear distinctions as to who really has the best price for service (no accident, I’m sure).

In the end, it may not be who has the cheapest calls that matters, but who can deliver the “best service at the lowest cost” – which is not always the cheapest. And as they often say, “you get what you pay for”. I have also found that call quality can be fleeting - sometimes good, sometimes not so good. There are many factors that can affect call quality. (Not always just your service provider.)

At present, I am seeing per minute costs between USA and Canada ranging from 3.9¢/minute down to as low as 1¢/minute and less. It’s very competitive and prices are often dynamic and hard to keep track of. But, anyway you slice and dice it, it’s always much cheaper to call over the Internet than via “Ma Bell” and associates...