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Reach Out and Get Touched: Yikes! it’s Skype
by Bernard Gorman

 As academics, there are times when we’d like to set up conference calls with our colleagues and students. Many of us spend time off-campus and some of us are even overseas at any given time. As anyone who has tried to set up a conference call knows, this is not always an easy task and it can also be quite expensive. I’m intrigued by the idea of free, long-distance telephone calls. Nowadays, cell phone plans and even land-line phone services are making low-cost, long-distance calling a reality. However, all of these services come with an attached price tag. How about free calls? Better yet, how about free conference calls? In fact, both of these can be found with Skype, an incredibly useful internet service.

  Skype was started in 2002 and is now a subsidiary of eBay.  The idea behind Skype is quite simple. You sign up for a free account with a logon ID and password at www.skype.com.  Then, you plug in a headphone and microphone into the audio jacks of your desktop or laptop and  log-on to Skype. Next, contact some other Skype users by their logon names and, if they wish to talk to you, they’ll reply. Unlike earlier web-based calling, Skype’s audio quality is much better than that of cell phones and most landline phones. If you’re brave enough to do video-conferencing, plug in an inexpensive web camera and you’ll be seen as well as heard.  As many as ten people can establish a conference call. 

 Calls between Skype members who are at their own computers are completely free.  At this point, you might ask how you could phone people who are not at their computers. Here’s where you’ll have to pay a little bit more for some excellent service. For $30 per year, you can call any cell or home phone in the USA or Canada on unlimited basis at any time of the day or night.  If you wish to call overseas, you can sign up for the SkypeOut service, which allows you to call most places in the world for around two cents per minute. If you wish to call extremely remote, underdeveloped nations, then you’ll pay slightly more.  I frequently call friends and colleagues in Europe and Australia for less than $1.50 per hour.

 Remember that if both people are at their computers, then Skype is free, If you’re calling a non-Skype user, then you’ll pay a small fee.  Let’s add another twist—what if you want to call people on Skype but you don’t want to use your computer? Well, those Skype folks have an answer. There are cordless phones that connect via WI-FI to routers and then call either Skype or non-Skype users at their phones or computers.  Several major manufacturers (e.g., Netgear, GE /Thompson, US Robotics, LinkSys, Hawking, Logitech) offer Skype phones. Personally, I’ve enjoyed using my GE phone and I’ve saved a considerable amount of money with it.

 In short, for keeping in touch with friends, colleagues and students, you might try Skype.


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