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The Computer’s Ringing!

Making phone calls via the Internet has been slow to catch on but its time is coming!

By Sarah Klein

When friends and family are spread out around the country or the globe, long distance calling charges are bound to add up. Sure, you can email or IM for free, but it’s not the same as hearing a loved one’s voice.

That’s where Internet phone calls come in. By now, you’ve probably heard of Skype, an easy-to-use, high quality download for free calls and video chat from one computer to another. Now there are many other options using the same technology, called Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP. VoIP services like Skype convert your voice into a digital signal and then transmit those signals over the Internet.

Google Talk is a similar service, which allows phone calls and video chat right from your desktop, or from Gmail, where your friends’ availability will also be displayed. You can also leave and receive free online voicemail. Yahoo! Voice, from Yahoo! Messenger, the second most popular instant messenger behind AIM, now allows free Internet phone calls and features free voicemail like Google.

There are a few drawbacks that have, until now, kept Internet phone calls from really catching on. You can’t take your computer for a stroll like you can a phone – although the recent trend towards netbooks might change that. Mobility is limited because callers need an Internet connection and must sit at the computer to talk. Also, you can’t just call up your friend in China any time you want. Since both chatters need to be logged into the Internet for software-based services, scheduling can become an obstacle.

But products and services are emerging to improve upon the drawbacks. VoIP technology can be used from a normal phone connected to a special adapter, as is offered from pay services like Vonage, Lingo, and Packet8. There are even special VoIP phones like the NETGEAR Skype Wi-Fi Phone, the first wireless Internet phone, which can be used anywhere with Internet access. Skype has even introduced an application compatible with the iPhone to take Skype on the go.

Phone via the Internet hasn’t caught on quite yet, but as the services become more user-friendly, it seems its time is coming soon.

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