with Lorelle and Brent VanFossen

Are You Still Paying for International Phone Calls?

Cell phone on desk next to coffee mug with Doctor Who logo - photography by Lorelle VanFossen.According to a recent Harris Interactive/Rebtel Research Study, smart phone and web users are idiots and spending money they don’t have to call internationally.

Despite the number of free web services available to make international calls, US smartphone owners are shelling out close to $37.8 billion a year to keep in touch with foreign contacts. According to a recent survey, 21% of those with a smartphone use their device to dial internationally. That breaks down to an average bill of $156 a month.

Google Voice Stays Free In 2013 But VOIP Is $15 Billion Industry” from Forbes says that even though most people know that Skype is free, “30 million Americans pay for VOIP services and they are expected to generate about $14.5 billion in revenue.”

While we are not yet to Arthur C. Clarke’s prediction and dream of free communication world-wide, we are getting closer.

Come on, people. Get smart.

I’ve traveled all over the world and want to stay in contact with friends I’ve made in those countries. With the global nature of social media, don’t be constrained by the old boys club thinking when it comes to staying in touch across borders.

We know that this should be easier. I agree. Unfortunately, we are usually stuck calling people only on our plans, with our provider, or using the same software or app. Some charge fees for mobile phone access (2g, 3g, 4g) but are free for access with the same phones over WIFI. There are work-arounds, and these are worth exploring if you would make regular international calls like I do.

I used to use international calling prepaid calling cards and all types of gimmicks to make affordable calls internationally, but with the expansion of VOIP, there is no need for that any more. Save time and money being smarter about connecting.

I connect with my friends internationally from my computer (laptop, tablet, phone, etc.) frequently with Google Talk, Google Hangouts, and Skype. All for free. Skype is the easiest for those unfamiliar with the rest. Use their app or desktop program to place calls for free to international members of Skype. Need to call direct to a non-Skype phone, take advantage of their cheap membership prices.

I can’t recommend Google Hangouts enough. I love it. Not only can I voice, text, and video call for free to anyone in the world with a Gmail account, it features conference calling (up to a limited number for free), whiteboard, screen sharing, and more.

Google Voice gives you a free phone number. Google announced that at least through 2013, you will be able to make free domestic calls in the United States and Canada, and very cheap rates internationally. All calls made to that number are connected to any number you set up with Google Voice. Sipgate1 is designed for VOIP (Voice-Over-Internet) and allows you to connect the account with your Google Voice number and allows people to call you for free. The technique requires too many steps but it works. This video will help with the specifics. Once set up, you shouldn’t have to mess with it more.

However, you can also call through Google Talk (Google Chat is the same thing), all for free. Just dial their number or click on their profile from Gmail and you’re on the phone with them.

Want to call near your computer? JAJAH is one I’ve used for years to call internationally. Their Price List features fairly reasonable prices and notes which countries have free telephone access, one land line calling another. From their website, you put in your phone number and the number you are calling. The site calls you and you pick up and the two phones are then connected together. I’ve placed many calls to Israel for free over the years, calling cell phones and land lines.

I have a couple magicJack devices but I have yet to use them, but I do have friends who use them successfully. It is designed to replace your current phone plan and allows you to call anyone and anywhere in the world. You can even travel with it. Just plug it in as you travel and it will still work for you. The current plan is 30 days free then twenty dollars a year. I’d love to hear if this is working for you and how the reception quality is.

Ooma is similar service. Plug the unit into your WIFI router and turn off your home phone company. It requires high-speed Internet, which we do not have. The price rates for international calls in general appear to be cheaper than some other services. They are offering 1000 minutes to 61 countries for USD $9.99 a month.

Viber offers free calls, text messages, photo and location sharing and works on iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Nokia, Blackberry, and more. It allows you to call for free to other Viber users worldwide. It integrates into your smartphone’s contact book, making the process easier to connect.

Tango allows connections from computers and smartphones to connect with other Tango users. It’s free and allows international access for phone calls, video, text message, video message, and more. A gimmick associated with Tango is the ability to click a button and let emotional or odd animation to float over the face through the video chat feature. It works over WIFI and G networks and permits calls to landlines and mobile phones.

Bobsled Calling, an Android and iPhone App, allows for free calling between web, Android, iPhone, iPad, and iPod phones for the US, Canada, and Puerto Rico. It connects with Facebook, too, for calls and cats to people with or without phones.

Nimbuzz allows free calls and messaging for domestic and “cheap” calls for international. It is a prepaid plan disguised as a “credit” plan where you buy credits in advance or earn them. The plans are for 950 minutes at USD $10 a month and less for lessor time plans. Calls to Israel landlines are 0.02 a minute and to mobile phones is 0.09 cents a minute, as an example.

Vtok works with Google to allow free video calls with smartphones. Both parties must have Google accounts as it uses Gmail, Google Video Chat, and Google Talk. Since Google apps have this all integrated, I’m not sure why you would want another app to do the same with the apps you already have, but it is an option.

netTALK is free for one year for local and international calls, then it is under USD $6 a month using their netTalk DUO device plus a flat rate of $29.95 a year for their basic plan (included in the DUO kit). While on the surface it looks all free, there are price plans for calling in the US and internationally, adding onto the price of the device and basic plan fees. It was too complicated to figure out how it compares to other plans, especially since every click on their site spawned a new window, making me lose track of what I was looking for on the site. I checked what it would be for a price list and it is only downloadable, another strike against them for poor usability on their site. I’d skip this plan if their site is a reflection of their business model.

David Pogue, The Times technology columnist, made a few stabs to help people call nationally and internationally with their regular and smart phones. In “Ins and Outs of Internet Calling – State of the Art” and “Appendix: Apps for Free Calls to Regular Phones” he lists Skype and Google Voice and adds more options.

He recommends Freephone2phone which permits free calls to over 50 minutes. The catch? You have to listen to an ad and calls are limited to 10 minutes to any phone number anytime, and the next two calls to that number on the same day are limited to 5 minutes. Good enough for a quick chat with friends and a single family member, but not if the phone is being passed around to the entire family back home.

Pogue also recommends Truphone for free to members and a small monthly fee for unlimited access. Their TruUnlimited plan is UK7.99 a month (USD $13) for unlimited landline access to over 35 countries and mobile calls to China, USA, Canada, and six other countries. This appears to be used by many business travelers.

fring is for talk, texting, and video calls. It integrates and connects with Skype, MSN Messenger, Google Talk, ICQ, SIP, Yahoo Messenger, AIM, etc., giving you a wider range of communication options. It’s free for members contacting members, and under 10 cents USD a minute to non-member connections.

Talkatone works much like the other services with free calls and text messages via your phone or mobile device. It uses Google Talk and Google Voice as well, and a Google account is required. Support is through ads displayed within the app, disabled with a small fee as part of their Talkatone Premium package. Because it is closely tied to Google Voice and Talk, it works best for Canada and US customers. I couldn’t find an international rate sheet though they claim their rates for international calls is low.

pricing plans are USD 1.6 cents a minute for domestic and international ranges from one cent to fifty cents or more depending upon region and if it is a landline or cell. Prices appear to be similar to competitors.

Vonage plans offer free international calls on their plans, but only to other Vonage users.

Rebtel allows you to make calls from your landline, mobile, or computer to anywhere in the world for low rates, not free. Free is only for those on the Rebtel system, but they do have a free trail program to experiment and see if it works for you.

There are so many options, so why are you paying for international calls?

Here are a few more for you to check out. Most of these are Android Apps as that is what we use. These may be available for iOS as well.

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