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VOIP Solution

With the era of high speed internet access right upon us, the possibilities are now endless as to what you can do with telephony. These services that provide access over the internet are called VOIP, and will allow you to make calls over the internet (as long as you have a high speed connection) with low rates, and sometimes even for free. There are, of course, many advantages to using solutions such as these to call family and friends but you also have to consider the drawbacks of a calling solution such as this. In this article we will provide you with further information on how to access these services, their benefits and their problems.

How do you use VOIP services? If you were a …

Long-term Study Abroad Student

You are an American student who will spend a year studying abroad in several different countries. You and your loved ones at home can use a combination of VOIP features. Use the peer-to-peer feature especially for long conversations. You could also opt to purchase a local American number so that people in the US can call locally and still reach you no matter where you are. In addition, you could set up call forwarding so that a call to your VOIP number is forwarded to a local landline or your local mobile phone when you are offline (charges apply).

International Student in the US

You are an international student who will live in the US for at least four years. In addition to free peer-to-peer communication, your family back home could purchase a subscription that allows for unlimited calls to the US, if your parents have access to a computer and reliable internet. They can call your American mobile or landline number for a flat monthly fee. OR you could purchase a local number from your home country if it is affordable and available (some countries are more expensive than others). Your parents can use their normal phone without internet to make a local to your VOIP number while you are physically living in the US.

Short-Term Study Abroad

You are a Canadian graduate student who will spend 8 weeks in Paris for your research. You already use a VOIP service through your landline phone at home to make unlimited calls to the US and Canada. You can take your VOIP equipment with you to Paris and connect the device to a router abroad. Your service will continue to work as if you were still in Canada (unlimited calls to the US and Canada, and low rates to international numbers).

What providers are available?

There are dozens of different VOIP service providers that use different infrastructures to allow for Internet-based calling. The types we will focus on are:


Compare Softphone Providers

“Softphones” allow you to make and receive calls through a computer or tablet, rather than a physical telephone, although many are now compatible with mobile phones as well. The most well-known and widely used softphone is Skype, but there are dozens of alternatives by now. Softphones require only that users download the software (usually free) to their computer, tablet or smartphone. They require no additional equipment beyond your computer and Internet connection (unless your computer doesn’t have a built-in microphone, in which case you will need a headset, and a webcam is recommended as well). All softphone options listed below allow free peer-to-peer conversations within the application. In addition, most softphone applications have extra features such as file sharing, instant messaging, and integration with social media platforms all for free.

Advantages and Disadvantages of VOIP Softphones

  • Free (user to user)
  • Cheaper calling rates than mobile phones
  • User-friendly
  • No special equipment to buy
  • Video chat
  • Calling multiple people at the same time
  • Requires high-speed, reliable Internet
  • Requires computer, tablet, or smartphone
  • Not very mobile unless using a mobile app
  • No emergency calling
  • Contacts have to sign up for the same service

Mobile Apps

While early versions of the softphone required a computer, you can now use your smartphone and mobile application to talk to people around the world through the Internet. Mobile apps function almost identically to the softphone options mentioned above, and as you can see from the chart, most softphone services have a mobile app. While many of these mobile apps advertise themselves as providing “free” calling, this is really only the case if you’re calling over a WiFi network. If you’re using your phone’s data plan to call, this can end up being very expensive, especially if you’re on a PAYGO plan (you pay per megabyte used). If you have a data package, which provides a certain allocation of data for a flat monthly fee, using it to call or video chat can easily burn through your data limit in just a few calls. The only way it is “free” is if you have a truly unlimited data plan, which often requires a contract agreement with a carrier or a rather expensive monthly fee.

Compare Mobile Providers

In addition to the mobile apps mentioned above, there are others that are purely mobile apps (they don’t have desktop counterparts) to consider.

Advantages and Disadvantages of VOIP Mobile Apps

  • Free (user to user; over WiFi)
  • Cheaper calling rates than mobile phones
  • User-friendly
  • No special equipment to buy
  • Video chat
  • Calling multiple people at the same time
  • Use to connect internationally or with friends in host country
  • Connections over 3G network may be slow or poor quality
  • Requires a smartphone with a data package
  • May use high amounts of data and become expensive
  • No emergency calling
  • Contacts have to sign up for the same service

Device-based VOIPs

Compare Device-based VOIPs

Rather than using your computer or tablet or smartphone, device-based VOIPs use a special adapter to connect your current landline telephone to the Internet to make calls. Most of these services are currently based in the US, which makes them attractive to American customers traveling abroad or Americans who call internationally often. However, these services are probably less advantageous for international students studying in the US.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Device-based VOIPs

  • Have a landline phone without the monthly bills
  • International calls for a flat fee
  • Unlimited calls to the US/Canada, no matter where you live
  • No need for a computer or a mobile device
  • Emergency calling
  • Can call any number, no need to get friends to sign up to the same service
  • Must buy special equipment
  • Must bring equipment with you when live abroad
  • No video chat
  • Calls must be made at home
  • International plans generally more expensive than softphone calls
  • No SMS support or other integration with mobile applications

How to Choose?

Each VOIP service provider is similar, so the best way to choose will be to think about the direction you will be calling most often. In other words, will you be calling home often or will home be calling you? How often do you think you’ll be calling? Is it important that you retain a number from your home country? Once you determine the answers to these questions, compare the rates for subscription services and pay-as-you-go for your home country as well as your host country. With all the choices out there, you should be able to find a service that provides cheap rates either to your host country or to your home country. The good news is that most of the services are not based on a long-term contract, so you can cancel if you find a cheaper rate.

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