Saturday, July 14, 2007

How Skype works, Internet plans

> What's the deal with Skype? How does it work? Does it work well?

Skype is great. Here is how I use it.

I have a Mac laptop. It has a microphone and headphone jack built in. I went onto Skype's website, downloaded the Mac software, and paid the $15-$30 for the unlimited calling to anywhere in the US plan. I was all set. I can call any number in the US, be it cell, Skype, or landline, and it is free. I can be sitting in Singapore at an airport lounge with a wireless Internet connection, fire up Skype, plug in my ipod earbuds, and talk into my MacBook Pro to anyone in the US for free. I don't have a Skype-in number or any of that stuff. Just the Skype software on my laptop and the annual "unlimited calls to anywhere in the US plan". When I am home, I have a Plantronics USB headset that I use for making calls. The headset has a mic. But you can get great quality by using any laptop that has a microphone for you to talk into, and a headphone jack so you can hear the conversation. You can use any headphones at all -- like those you would use in listening to an ipod or stereo. The laptop or computer just has to have Skype software installed along with an Internet connection.

Skype quality is generally excellent. In fact, I used a landline and MCI card to call Poland last week to yell at an editor who had not paid. She could not hear me, so I called her back using Skype and it was clear as a bell. She told me to stop yelling at her.

> > Is there a good cheap phone system (Skype?)
> > What's the best way to do this and still get quality?

So here's my phone system. I use a phone card that I bought from Costco for my international calls, which I can use to make calls from Indonesia to the US, or from the US to Indonesia, if I need to. I rarely use it these days, but it is there for the occasional call. I have a landline with AT&T, basic service at $11 per month. The long-distance on this landline is with a company called TTI, which used to be Costco's long-distance provider. It's about $.05 per minute in the US and gives good international rates also. With the advent of Skype and cell phones, our long-distance bill on our landlines (three of them!) is about $1.50 per month.

I have a cell phone, which I will soon change to a pay-as-you-go cell phone plan, either T-Mobile, Tracfone, or Net10. Did you know that most of these pay-as-you-go plans have rates as low as $0.10 per minute if you buy enough minutes at one time?

I signed up for a free service called GrandCentral. It gives me one phone number. Anyone calling that one phone number can reach my cell, home, office, whatever numbers I want. So it is going to be my "permanent" phone number and I only have to give the one phone out. Voicemails to my GrandCentral phone number are delivered to me by email and I can listen to them on my email or web browser.

One of the reasons I am keeping my landlines rather than discontinuing them is because I still send faxes once in a while and have a machine at both the home and the office. Lastly, if I keep my landlines, I can get DSL service through AT&T for very cheap. If I get DSL service through AT&T, I can sign up for their Freedomlink wifi service which costs only $2 per month, and lets me log into wifi hotspots in various places like Seattle and Denver airport, McDonalds, UPS Stores, etc.

> > Anyway, that's not why I'm writing. I'm writing because I want to cut my
> > phone/internet bill. Is there a good, cheap high-speed internet
> provider?

I am a frugal bastard and hate paying much. In the past, I was able to switch services every six months to a year and pay about $20 per month for internet access. I'd sign up for six months of cable internet access through Comcast at $20 per month for six months. They'd give me a free cable modem and a $75 rebate. When the rate went up to $42.95 at the end of six months, I'd cancel the service and switch to AT&T (SBC) DSL service for a year, ranging from $12.99 to $19.99 per month. They'd give me a free modem. After the rate went up after a year, I'd go back to Comcast. I think I may have gotten my internet service for basically free after selling all the modems on Ebay.

Oh, I kept basic Comcast TV service ($15 per month) at my house which allowed me to get that $20 intro rate. And all cable TV now have to put high-def signals on their services, so I am renting a Motorola box at $5 per month at home to get several stations in HD for free. This is truly awesome as I get ESPN and Discovery Channel in high-def for free.

AT&T has given up on making you commit to year-long contracts and special intro rates. I am just sticking with their $19.99 DSL plan and it works fine for me at the office. At home, I've gone with a slightly higher-speed plan at $25 per month.

And if you get a Google Mail address, you don't have to use email addresses from Comcast or SBC. Your email address remains free and the same no matter what your internet provider is.

Ridicule me for my frugality if you wish. I hate being screwed by the utilities and feel like I am winning in my small way

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