Tech Culture: Turn your PC into a telephone
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Tech Culture: Turn your PC into a telephone

3:25 /

Make cheap and sometimes free phone calls from your computer.

>> The internet is a great big data pipe and it can carry a lot of things including phone calls. I'm Tom Merritt from CNET.com. On this edition of Insider Secrets, I'll show you how to use your computer like a phone. ^M00:00:11 [ Music ] ^M00:00:20 >> Assuming you have a computer, you're gonna need three more things, the internet some software, and some hardware. First, the internet connection, the higher the speed the better. Unlike regular phone service, there's never a direct connection between you and the person you're calling. Like other internet traffic, your call on the internet arrives on what are called packets and the faster you can receive and send those packets the fewer problems you'll have with your phone connection. Next, the software you need. There's no end of voice over internet protocol or commonly known as a VoIP software out there. The most popular is Skype at Skype.com. It's a free download and it lets you make free calls to anyone else with Skype and charges for calls made to landline or cellphones. You can buy Skype credit and pay as you go or choose a plan. From the United States plans range from 3 to 10 dollars monthly depending on what countries you want unlimited calling to. Plans include a phone number that any regular phone can call and you can also buy a phone number separately if you want to pay as you go for outgoing calls. An alternative to Skype is Gizmo5. Download the software from Gizmo5.com. Now, similar to Skype, calls to other Gizmo5 users are free and you can buy credits for making calls to landlines and cellphones. From the United States rates are a couple cents a minute within the US. It costs more for calls to countries outside the US and significantly more to cellphones outside the US. To receive calls, you have to purchase a call in plan. The rates vary depending on what country you are in, the cheapest starts at 3 dollars a month. Both of these services feature text messaging, voice mail, conference calling, and call forwarding. Now, another cool thing is that both services work on mobile devices. Skype works on Nokia tablets, the Sony PSP and Windows Mobile phones. Gizmo5 works on Nokia tablets, BlackBerries and several other platforms. Finally, the hardware, the simplest but maybe worst, is a microphone and some speakers. Now, most laptops actually have this built in but watch out for feedback. The next step up is a headset with the mic built in. In fact, some may consider this ideal although it is tethered to your computer. Ideally, you can get a VoIP handset that looks and works like a regular landline phone. Skype has the edge here with several VoIP handsets but specifically for their service. There are even a few that work with VoIP and a regular landline. One of those is even called the iPhone. So you get that and then you can brag that you have the original iPhone from Linksys. One key thing to remember before you go dumping your landline is that most emergency services are not accessible from these VoIP services. For instance, 911 is not available from Gizmo5 or Skype in the United States. For that level of service, you need to subscribe to a specialized VoIP service as provided by many cable companies as well as phone services like Vonage. However, with that one important exception, you can otherwise use your computer just like a telephone. I'm Tom Merritt from CNET.com. Call me. ^M00:03:20 [ Music ]

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