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Phone, calling cards, VoIP

How to keep your expenses down and still stay in touch with your loved ones back home and with your friends around the world.

Communicating from overseas is a subject we rarely consider before leaving either a home country location or another country. Then you are immediately landed with little or no choice, in order to stay in touch with friends and family while in transit other than to use a payphone or the hotel phone (both very expensive), or your mobile (which, if you're not careful, can almost add up the same charges as a hotel bill!) TIP: An option worth checking is either renting a mobile phone locally or buying a rechargeable mobile phone as an alternative.
Once you are settled and you have your home phone number, you are often faced with another case of reality! This is often when you  need to speak to your family and friends more (perhaps you have just arrived and do not know anyone in your new location!), you are often inhibited to do so by the cost of the phone calls using a traditional line. If you have never thought about it, here are some alternative methods you can rely on, other than a land line, to keep your costs down:

The first option relies on the traditional analogue land line of the telephone companies, the others are internet based options and therefore require either a portable computer with internet access or an internet point.

Calling cards, phone cards

Calling cards are an option that is quite independent from the phase of your move, whether you have just arrived or you are settled in the new location. The question that a newcomer may have about this reasonably inexpensive method of calling might be:

"Why are calling cards so much cheaper?" - the answer lies in the way the telecommunication works, which somewhat resembles  the airline industry where people traveling on the same plane have paid a variety of prices. Companies that sell calling cards (or phone cards), in the same way as airlines do, purchase 'bulk minutes' from line carriers at huge discounts – these savings are then passed to you (a bit similar to the way air consolidator work for airline tickets).

Phone cards can be used from any land line phone (mobile phones might not always be compatible with phone cards, unless specifically designed for them), anywhere, at anytime, but there are some cards which apply a surcharge when calling from pay phones or hotel phones and others that you cannot use from your mobile phone.

Purchase of these cards could be done either over the phone, online or in stores (the point of sale vary depending on the country you live in and it can range from a local grocery store to the post office). Finding out where to buy them locally, you should consult the Paguro City Guides. The advantage of ‘online’ and ‘phone purchase’ of cards is, that you are not restricted by store opening hours.

Phone cards can be used from home or from any touch tone phone. Some payphones need to be told that you wish to use 'tones'. To do this, you may have to press " * " (asterisk sign) after the access number to switch on tones. (Remember: To use phone cards from a mobile phone may mean incurring extra charges).

The world of phone cards is a maze and it is constantly changing with more and more providers appearing on the market. Each country might have a specifically advantageous phone card provider or one carrier may offer better rates in one country and not others due to provider agreements. This means that whichever country you need to reach, you may find yourself holding different calling cards to reap the benefit of best rates on each call.

Phone card providers normally have a feature that will inform you about the minutes you have left at the beginning of each phone call you make, allowing you to plan the length of calls. You will often find online rechargeable cards maybe an advantage, especially if you don’t have access to a computer when you’re away. In this case, you can recharge from a cyber- café or via phone. Some companies offer more refined services like family cards where each individual has its own pin to access long distance and international calls, tied into a master card account. A username and password allows you to access your account information. You may recharge your account, update profiles, and view real-time calling history.

Glossary

Here are the most frequently used expressions which are used to describe the type of services and related costs.

Access number    This refers to the 10 or 11 digit number you dial to use a prepaid phone card. Usually it is a toll free number, but some phone cards offer you access numbers that are local numbers in specific regions. Local Access Numbers are used to reduce costs and thus better rates for customers.
Toll free international numbers change from country to country, which means that you do not pay for the access call from a standard line. Generally with a toll free number the international call charge is charged to the phone card. There are some exceptions though.
Some cards may provide a toll free access number, but add a 'per minute' surcharge. Other exceptions to the rule are pay phones, cell phones, hotels etc. In these cases, unfortunately the situation is ‚case by case’ and the resonsibility lies on you, the customer to check how much you are paying.

Pay Phones    As pay phone operators makes no immediate profit from customers dialling toll free, they generally will make a 'payphone surcharge' for calling a phone card access number. This will normally be levied to the phone card itself and does vary by country. Some cards do not have a payphone surcharge. Usually the makers of such cards absorb the costs themselves. In some countries, the access numbers may be blocked by the payphone operator. If this happens to you then the alternative is to try either a hotel or someone's home phone.
In some countries you may need to deposit a coin in the pay phone, which in some cases is returned to you at the end of the call.

  • Cell phones/Mobile phones/portable phones  - An enormous amount of people use mobile phones. Generally each network provider decides its own rates for local calls, national, mobile and non-geographic numbers etc. The best way to find out the costs to dial an access number of a phone card is to ask your cell phone provider for the cost of the call (TIP: simply ask how much it would cost dialing the number, there is no need to specify it is a calling card). Some access numbers can be used from a mobile phone, or an alternative specified access number is provided when calling from cell/mobile phones.
    In some countries, some access numbers have been set-up together with a mobile operators and an agreed per minute surcharge is added to the card.Some local mobile service providers in some countries may block phone card access number, if this happens then try calling from a home or hotel phone.
    Always check the rate from your mobile before using a card. When roaming (this describes the use of a cell phone and number purchased from one country, but used in other countries) you may get charged much higher charges and even for a local call you may end up paying an astronomical cost per minute. It may be cheaper to call fom the hotel!
  • Hotel phones -  The majority of hotels do not charge for accessing toll free numbers. In some established markets, hotels may charge a connection fee for each call made to a calling card, but it is not the norm. In some countries hotels may block access numbers, but it is more the exception than the rule. Prior to using your card you should enquire at the hotel before to understand what cost you may be incurring.

Connection charge    Each time you use a telephone card and your party answers, you will be charged a connection fee which will be deducted from the available minutes.  The calling card assumes that you will make one call, and, based on that one call the card gives you the number of minutes available for that call. 
This charge for the call may vary depending on the country a person is calling to, or it might be a fixed amount. Be aware that the connection fee lowers the advertised number of minutes on the phone card. Some cards are designed for longer calls and have some very low rates per minute, achievable by having a first minute connection charge. Thus when you dial a number the first minute is billed at the agreed rates plus a connection charge is added. These cards may work out much cheaper for longer duration calls.
Of course if you call your destination number and only use a momentl, for example your friends'  answering machine, then you still pay the connection fee. These shorter calls enable an operator to reduce the per minute charge. All low rate calling cards have a connection fee, but even so, the cost savings are phenomenal!

Destination number    This is the number you are preparing to call. When calling another country it is composed of international prefix or IDD (the “00” or “011” you dial before the country code, the country code, the city code  (or national prefix or NDD), and the phone number. (Phone on the Paguro site always have the country code in bold, preceded by a "+" sign and in brackets the number  that should be dropped when calling from overseas, but used when calling locally).

Extra free calls    Some card providers pre-charge cards to higher amounts than the face value, for example a 10 unit card might be charged at 15 units. This way they can quote the rates with this extra amount added to the card, which can create a little confusion about how much you are really paying. To figure it out add any “free” calls to the price you are paying for the card and then divide it by the price you pay to find the amount you are being charged per minute.

False connection    Charges should not begin until the call is answered, but sometimes the charge may start even though you do not appear to be connected. This occurs because the technology used has received a signal from the receiving phone and thinks it is connected. In this case you should contact the phone card provider customer services for a credit on your card.

Maintenance Fee/service charge    Many card manufacturers apply a service charge (or maintenance fee) to the rechargeable phone card during its active life. This can be in many forms. The important thing is that it should be declared. The maintenance fee is deducted from the phone card balance, usually charged 24 hours after the first phone call is finished. The value and period can vary (maintenance fee could be monthly, bi-weekly or even weekly).

Pay phone    Any public (or private) telephone that accepts coins, smart card or encoded credit cards located either in public spaces or in private establishments.

Pay-Phone Surcharge    The added fee applied to phone card balance for each call made from a payphone. As with ALL prepaid calling cards numbers, you are subject to a possible surcharge when you use these cards from a payphone.  

PIN    Personal Identification Number. Rechargeable phone card are associated with a PIN to avoid use by unauthorized people.

PIN Free Access    Some company provide with a refillable phone card, this allows you to register your phone number, when you use that number to call, after entering the Access number the telecom switches automatically, recognizing your number. So you are not required to enter complicated and difficult to memorize PINs.

Refillable/rechargeable phone card Cards that are not discarded after use, they offer additional opportunities such as refill opportunities, PIN-Free access, unlimited expiration period.

Rounding/Increment    The basic unit for phone call duration calculation. The normal minute rounding for prepaid phone cards is one minute (as an example: 30 second call will be billed at 1 minute; 1 minute and 30 second call will be billed at 2 minutes).
Some phone cards have two (example: a 1 minute call will be billed at 2 minutes) and three (a 1 minute call will be billed at 3 minutes) minutes rounding.

Toll Free Access number    These are numbers you need to dial to use prepaid phone cards. Toll free means that you do not pay for the access call from a standard line (it might be different for mobile phones). Generally with a toll free number the international call charge is charged to the phone card.

Validity period/expiry date    A phone card’s expiry period, begins after the first phone call. When purchasing a card make sure of the validity period, usually this is 90 days after the first call. If you purchase a card and start using it, say 20 days later, then it will expire (regardless of the balance on the card) 90 days after your first call, NOT 90 days after purchase.

VoIP   

Voice over Internet Protocol (or Voice over IP, or in short VoIP) is voice transformed in data format which is sent over a digital line (internet is an example) and reconverted in voice on the receiving end.This uses signals via digital lines instead of analogue lines (phone line technology).

To do this, VoIP has to use your device as a gateway (such as your PC) to connect. The gateway (a phone with an adaptor or special VoIP phone or your computer) receives the voice transmissions from users and then routes them to others, using a carrier system interface, sending them over the network.

The advantage of using a Voice over Ip versus traditional phone line is that using a phone line, you typically pay for the time you use, however with Voice over IP you don’t pay for the line, just the data transfer. Additionally, you can talk with many people simultaneously as well as data exchange, sending images, graphs, videos and texts all at the same time. Another major advantage of VoIP and Internet telephony is that it avoids the tolls charged by ordinary telephone service. Because Internet Voice is digital, it may offer features and services that are not available with a traditional phone.
If you have a broadband internet connection, these can incorporate telephone lines.
If you're considering replacing your traditional telephone service with Internet Voice, be aware of some differences:

  • some VoIP services don't work during power outages and the service provider may not offer backup power;
  • in case of emergencies a VoIP phone number may not easily connect you to emergencies phone numbers (fire, ambulance, police) or the emergency number called may not be able to identify the location of VoIP callers;
  • you may not have access to white and/or yellow pages linked to the telecom services.
  • A plus point of VoIP, is that it can be used with a high speed internet connection wherever you are in the world, equally from your home or business.

With many Internet Voice plans you can talk for as long as you want with any person in the world (usually providing the other person has an Internet connection, but increasingly there are services that offer the possibility of calling traditional phone numbers using a VoIP service) without any additional cost.

The advantages of VoIP services may change based on the provider you choose, read the provisions carefully to understand advantages and limitations to their service.
Today's market is moving towards convergence of these technologies into a single and ubiquitous communication service without hitting the barriers of the underlying technology.  

We are monitoring the development in this sector, we would welcome feedback about reliable services and your experience with them.

Skype
Free Internet telephony which works beautifully. You need broadband access.
Skype is for calling other people on their computers or phones. The calls computer-to-computer are free and computer-to-phone are offered at very interesting rates (but in some cases not competitive enough to beat telephone company rates or calling cards prices). You can have up to 5 people speaking together on conference call.
Available to PC, Mac and Linux machines.
website: www.skype.com

Google Hang Out

Fantastic tool to have 6 ways video conferencing chats, and it is completely free

Webcalldirect

WebCallDirect is an innovative and simple way to make cheap phone calls. Calls are set up from your PC but there's no need for headphones, microphones or having to install any software at all. Instead, WebCallDirect connects two standard telephones; yours and the number you want to call. This can be any phone: landline or mobile, local or anywhere else in the world. Free service is for certain destination only, but the rates are very interesting too

website: www.webcalldirect.com

Instant chats

The chances are that if you have used the internet, you may be familiar with names such as Yahoo and Msn. These services allow access to free email accounts with over 250 MB of space, as well as an ‘instant chat’ facility which allows you to talk to your chosen recipient using headphones, but through the computer.
Some of these services allow also conference calls; meaning more than two people may have an audio conversation at the same time.

Our experience with instant chats and VoIP services is that, besides being free, they can be excellent, however the service is not generally consistent. In reality, the lines or the servers are sometimes overloaded resulting in an inaccessible service or poor quality.

http://voice.yahoo.com/    
Free PC to PC calls. Similar to Skype, you have the Phone In function, voicemail, instant messages, etc. but not so usual at the moment. Mostly used by yahoo users. Available in France,Germany, Italy, Spain, Hong Kong, Singapore, USA. 

http://www.skype.com/download/
For free.
Most commonly used worldwide. The quality of the call is very good. All you need to make free calls is an Internet connection, a microphone, and a speaker and download the programme. And if you have a webcam, you can also use it. Useful extras at very low cost: You can call landlines and mobile phones at very cheap rates per minute (Skype out); Get a SkypeIn number, so that people using ordinary phones can call you directly on Skype: Skype
Voicemail takes the messages when you can't take calls;
Skype SMS lets you get in touch with friends instantly when
they're not online. Available in almost all languages. 

http://www.google.com/talk/  For free.
Available since 2006. It basically has similar functions to Skype except for“Skype-out”, voicemail, telephone and other functions that skype has. Furthermore, you need to have a gmail or google account. But it’s for free and also has has a chat function. In addition to US English, GoogleTalk is also available in these language interfaces: UK English, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Turkish and simplified and traditional Chinese. All you need to make free calls is an Internet connection, a microphone, a speaker and download the programme.

http://www.tarjetastelefonicas.com/  (Spanish)

http://cloncom.com/index.jsp  (English)

http://cloncom.com/pc_index.jsp 
(PC to Phone option at very low rates)
Phone anyone around the world via a prepaid telephone card at very low rates. You just have to buy the card via internet (pay online) 

http://www.koalacalling.com/ 
Mostly used by callers from the USA to other countries worldwide. Also used for local calls in Canada and the US for prices as of 1,9 cents per minute. 0800
Toll free service available from the U.S., Canada, Australia, Belgium, France, Hungary,
Ireland, Italy, Mexico, New Zealand, Spain, and the United Kingdom. And many other services such as calling cards,Cellular services, call back services, etc.

Any questions :  koala@koalacalling.com

http://www.voipbuster.com/en/index.html
You can make a free trial call, try it! It’s also for free and has a few extras like sending sms for low rates, etc. You have to download the programme.

http://www.ozinternetphones.com/
A directory of Australian VOIP providers. Very useful.

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