Choosing the best VOIP provider

Almost a year ago, I learned to know a wonderful female by the name of Jennifer from Washington, USA. We now talk almost every day, and so I have had a need for cheap, low cost, high capacity phone communications with someone halfway across the globe. Finding a good way of sustaining communication while still having money left for ramen noodles has been a long and bumpy road, and I wanted to share my findings with anyone who might be interested.

Phone Cards

Using international phone cards is a simple measure of calling using VOIP (I’m almost certain that’s how they keep such low rates), but without the need for a dedicated phone. The caveats with phone cards are that you often have to pay local fees for calling their access number, and that most of them have management fees which deducts minutes for every day/week since the card was activated. Although this is a good alternative for home users, the more tech-savvy of us would want an alternative that would eliminate these extra costs, and perhaps give us a few extra minutes for our moneys worth.

Pure VOIP providers

Most VOIP operators use a de facto standard for VOIP communications called SIP. In order to receive calls a user must have a SIP client on his computer (often referred to as a “softphone”) or a dedicated hardware SIP client (Such as a PAP2)

Meet the competition

The net is swarming with hundreds of VOIP-providers all claiming to be the best, cheapest, the ones with the most services and value for money, or all of the mentioned. As one would conclude using simple logic, this can hardly be the case, but as I went deeper and deeper I still found most of the providers provide roughly equivalent service. Some have features others do not, while others may have cheap calls, but are incompatible with the SIP, rendering them unusable in conjunction with many of the great SIP adapters available.  Skype is a prime example of this, and while they do have great pricing, you would have to get one of their licensed (and overpriced) phones in order not to be confined to your computer when you speak.

Except “call-out” services for calling destinations very cheaply, many operators offer “call-in” numbers, which gives you a local number in any country. This way, people can call you using a local number, thus reducing both their and your costs.

Best Call-out operator

After having tried many operators on the market i found a somewhat obscure company called Finarea SA. (Also known as Betamax GmbH) They have a very interesting business model, which could probably be the subject for a post of it’s own. In short words, they start very many different sites, every site having its own pricing scheme and slightly refurbished layout and skin for the softphone. Over time, older sites start getting more and more expensive until they cost more than most other VOIP providers, but by that time many new sites have established themselves with very low prices (most new sites promise 300 minutes of free call/week to many destinations) The minimum deposit is usually 10 euros and pricing to different destinations changes almost every week. However, if you can stand signing up with a new site (they all have a very generic look) every other month or so, this is without doubt the company with the most value for money as call quality is very good.  They do however not provide call-in numbers and their text service – which might be cheap, simply does not work to some destinations.

Best Call-in operator

There’s one price that’s hard to beat, and that’s free. IPKall offers free Washington state call-in numbers with unlimited inbound minutes. Another very interesting startup is GrandCentral. Recently acquired by Google, they promise “a number for life” – a number which can simultaneously ring your cell, house and computer phone. I was lucky enough to get an invite by signing up, but I’ve understood they’re sparse. You need an American proxy and number to sign up (I used my IPKall number.) Interestingly enough, they now offer completely free inbound and outbound calls, but that’s bound to change as they go public.

Final words

Finding the best operator is not a simple task. My only tip is to scout the field very carefully before making your final choice.

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