The whole scoop on PC to phone calls, how to set it up,
First, the big question...
There has been a tremendous amount of hype concerning PC to phone calls, free and otherwise, so I will begin by showing the basic equipment required, and the best methods of using this service.
Basic system requirements:
The sites to see
There are many sites offering free PC to phone call services, but only two that I will recommend:
Dialpad.com - Offers free PC to phone calls within the US and Canada
Hottelephone.com - Offers free PC to phone calls to over 30 countries worldwide.
And another freebie so that you don't miss calls while you're online:
If you want to call a country that isn't on the list at Hottelephone.com , then I would suggest using the pay services for international calls at Deltathree.com. Even when you have to pay for international PC to phone calls, they are less expensive when made over the internet than traditional phone calls.
Frequently asked questions
Keep up to date!
Q. How does this work?
A. Basically, it is a set of specifications, namely "Voice over Internet Protocol" (VoIP). It allows for the standard of compressing speech, digitizing it into signals, then decompressing the signals at the receivers phone.
At a certain level, it is similar to the way radio signals are broadcast, except that VoIP calls are completed over telephone lines.
Q. Why can't I make PC to phone calls on my Mac?
A. As wonderful as the Mac is, it doesn't support the underlying technology, namely Java VM. Apparently, though there are over 10 million Mac users, no company has stepped up to present a viable technology for Macs.
Q. What kind of sound quality can I expect?
A. It depends greatly upon the internet connection, but typically you can expect something less than a standard telephone call. Due to the way voice calls are processed over the internet, the user can expect static, delays in voices, and some interference.
In other words, something akin to how cellular phone calls were in the early to mid 90's. Sound quality will improve with the expansion of bandwidth and faster internet connection speeds.
There are several things you can do to improve the sound quality:
Q. Why is the internet connection speed so important?
A. The faster your connection speed, the better the sound quality. I wouldn't rush out and get DSL or a cable modem simply for better sounding calls, but with faster speeds, sound quality is very near what can be expected from standard phone calls.
To improve your connection speed, go to 56k.com for more info.
Q. Is a PC headset that important?
A. Yes. Computer microphones and speakers are not very well equipped to handle the nuances of voice communications, and voices will seem muffled. Feedback and echos are two of the most common effects of using the mic and speakers. Besides, who wants to lean over a microphone while trying to converse?
In addition, PC headsets are designed to be comfortable, have greater sound quality, and can be used for voice recognition software, gaming and listening to music as well.
A. If you can hear music (or other things) through the speakers of your computer, then you have a sound card. However, voice communications require a little extra attention.
Before you make your first PC phone call, go to the website of the manufacturer of your sound card.
Write down the manufacturers name, model name and version. Then go to their website, and look for a link that says "updates" or "downloads". This will download the latest updates to your sound card, most of which have to do with handling voice quality.
If you don't know the website address, do a search at your favorite search engine using the name of the manufacturer as a keyword.
Q. Half-duplex vs. Full-duplex sound cards
A. Most folks have half-duplex sound cards installed on their computers. This is ok for most applications, but not so great for voice communications.
With a half-duplex sound card, only one person can speak at a time, sort of like using a walkie-talkie. In most cases, voices will seem "delayed"; as if that person is talking in phrases instead of complete sentences.
When using some of the PC phone call sites, you have to click the microphone icon to speak if you have a half-duplex sound card. This can be a tad annoying after a short time.
If you have a full-duplex sound card, you don't have to wait for the other person to stop talking completely before you speak.
Q. What is Java VM?
A. Java VM is short for "Java Virtual Machine", an emulator that allows programs (like internet phone calling) to work without having to download a program. Most Windows users have this installed already, but if you find that you don't have this then you can download it for free at http://www.microsoft.com/java
Q. Why isn't my country on the list?
A. For a company to offer international PC to phone calls, it must have the essential routing equipment in that particular country. Most countries own their telecommunications infrastructure, and free calls erode their profits. Since each government has the authority to allow access, most do not, so that they can continue profiting from telephone calls.
Q. Why do you recommend only these two sites?
A. There are lots of others, to be sure. However, these two sites have been highly recommended by users and surveys.
They are easy to use, completely free, and the ads are not as intrusive as other sites that offer free PC to phone calls.
What's wrong with the sites that charge money? My answer to that is simple; why buy the cow when the milk is free. The pay sites don't offer more features or services to make them worthwhile. The free sites are happy with the ad money that is generated.
Don't pay for a second phone line...Get BuzMe!
Q. I'm missing phone calls when I'm online. What can I do?
A. Use BuzMe.com, a free internet voice mail service. When used with the "Busy call forwarding" feature (available from your telephone company), you will be alerted (on your screen) when there is an incoming call.
You will then have the choice of dropping the internet connection and taking the call, send the caller to your internet voice mail box, or relay a brief message, such as, "I'll call you back in five minutes," all at the click of a button.
Second phone lines can be quite expensive; upwards of $10 a month. Even if the "busy call forwarding" feature from your phone company costs a $1 or so a month, BuzMe is obviously quite a bargain and very convenient as well.
More Q's and A's to come! Send your question to me at :
Updated April 16, 2002 ©1999-2002 Phonex Communications, Inc.