We were working on an important proposal just at the time when my business partner, Dave Nicholson, and his wife Judy were scheduled to travel to Mexico on vacation. Since Dave’s job is to keep me from giving away the farm, it was important for us to collaborate on this proposal no matter where in the world he happened to be at the time. So we decided it was a good time to try out some long distance Internet telephone usage.
We agreed ahead of time when Dave would be available for a call, and when I contacted him I found him (naturally) in a bar. Judy was using his laptop at the time, so she informed Dave that his computer was “ringing”.
When we connected I was amazed at how clear he sounded – except that his voice was much deeper, and he sounded like one of those deep synth disk jockeys. “Hellooowrmph!” I guess when his voice was broken up, sent through cyberspace and put back together – sort of like those transporters on Star Trek – something must have happened to enhance it.
What we were experiencing was free long-distance calling via a service called Skype. To make this work, what you require at each end is high-speed Internet service (something apparently available for free in Mexican bars), and either speakers and a microphone or a headset/microphone combination. Many laptops nowadays have built-in speakers and microphones and it was this way that I was communicating with Dave.
To get the service running on your computer, go to www.skype.com and click on the Download button. Follow the simple instructions, and within minutes you have a free Skype account. You can then search for other Skype users and add them to your Skype contact list.
To make a call, simply find the person in your contact list and click on the Call button. The person at the other end will see a popup telling him who is calling. He must have Skype running; if not, you will get a “No answer” message, at which point you can leave him a text message which he will see the next time he logs into Skype.
Besides long distance calling, Skype also offers free video calls and instant messaging. For a fee, it will also allow you to make long distance calls or send text messages to regular phones. Skype calls this service a “great value”, stating that it does the long-distance portion over the Internet and therefore the only fees are for local calling services. (This makes sense to me but I never tried it out; perhaps some reader who did would care to send in a comment.)
There are other chargeable items like call forwarding and voice mail service.
We also recently used Skype to work on a deal with a consulting firm from Denmark and we found that it worked very well and of course liked that it was free of charge. I’ve also used Skype within my home as an intercom, by calling my daughter on the computer downstairs from my laptop upstairs. That may be taking it a little too far (or not far enough as the case might be). I’ve also heard stories of people having hour long conversations with loved ones in Australia and not paying a penny for these calls.
The only problem I’ve seen with Skype has been that the conversation can get choppy at times if the Internet connection isn’t fast; many people using the Internet from one location is one thing that can affect its speed. So when we are talking over long-distance to paying customers, we use regular long-distance conferencing services rather than risk getting a choppy signal.
Overall, however, I find Skype very effective and easy to use. And it can be fun, like when hearing Dave’s deep voice from thousands of miles away asking a waiter for “dos cervezas por favor”.