Internet telephony is on the rise and moving away from its geeky roots. Even Tesco is selling an Internet phone that costs around £10 and plugs into your computer's USB slot. It uses Tesco's proprietary VoIP software, is paid for by buying airtime with your credit card and can be used to make cheap national or international calls.
It was Skype who took the concept of VoIP global, but until recently you needed to switch your computer on to make calls. Many VoIP applications, including Tesco's Internet phone, still require you to use a computer. This can be annoying, as you have to wait for your PC or Mac to boot up, even if you only want to make a quick call.
Fortunately, some clever people have made handsets that don't need a computer to work. Netgear has just launched a(SPH101) that connects to your wireless router and lets you make calls on your Skype account from anywhere in your house. It costs around £160 and is available now.
Alternatively, you could use BT's 1010 Digital Cordless Phone with theand make wireless VoIP calls from that. BT also gives you a virtual number, so people can call you on the phone as if they were calling a normal landline.
Unfortunately, BT's wireless phone only works with a BT Hub and a BT Internet connection, so you can't take it abroad or use it with any wireless router. However, if you choose the BT Total Broadband package, you can get an Internet connection and a wireless VoIP phone for just £23 per month.
If you've already signed up to an Internet service provider or don't want to be tied down to the UK, then you can use Netgear's Skype phone or the Vonage Wi-Fi phone (the UTStarcom F1000). Vonage's Wi-Fi phone not only gives you access to cheap Internet telephony wirelessly, but also lets you set up several virtual numbers.
For £6 you can buy a local number anywhere in the world. For example, you can set up a local UK number, which people can call you on no matter where you are in the world, letting them save on phone calls by paying the national, rather than international rate. You can add additional virtual numbers for £3 per number per month. This could be useful for people who run businesses that deal with several European countries, as you could setup a local number for each of the countries and all calls would be directed to one handset.
Comparing different providers is difficult because of the way they bundle things, but as an example, for a flat rate of £7.99 a month Vonage offers free national calls anytime, while for £22.99 a month BT offers broadband and free evening and weekend calls over the Internet. -AL