Many individuals and businesses alike are using Skype VoIP services as an inexpensive option for telephony communications. But is the service worth what it claims and how does it work?
Skype is a VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) that is primarily used by individuals and businesses for free calling, videoconferencing, and IM chats. In addition to offering free audio and video calling, many people like Skype because of its versatility and affordability when it comes to VoIP communications.
The Skype VoIP service provides you with a basic set of calling features when you use the free version with the option to purchase upgraded features according to the plan you choose. The service allows you to make Internet calls using your laptop or desktop PC, tablet, smartphone, or any other type of mobile device that uses the Skype app.
If you want to use the Skype plan that is completely free, you will receive only the most basic features for making and receiving calls. However, the upgraded plans have proven to offer advanced features that you often find with the high quality VoIP service providers. The upgraded services allow you to keep your current phone number or choose any phone number with an area code, regardless if you reside in that location or not.
How Skype Works
The Skype interface allows you to easily manage your account and make phone calls from your mobile device to a landline phone or another mobile device that has Skype installed. The Skype service also allows you to use the app to call a cell phone number, even if the recipient does not have Skype installed. You never have to install any hardware and instead, all you need to do is download the software or the app for mobile devices to start making phone calls.
Skype allows you to leverage advanced calling services such as call waiting, caller ID, voicemail, call forwarding, video and group video calls, voice calls, instant messaging (IM), screen sharing, and file sharing. You can easily place calls through your contact list and the video conferencing feature works great for individual use or for holding business meetings.
One of the drawbacks is you cannot call 911 when you use Skype. The service also lacks features such as call blocking, call return, and other useful tools. This means if you want these capabilities, you must also maintain another phone line besides Skype.
Other features include Skype to Go which allows you to place international calls at low rates and Skype Click to Call which provides a way to switch between your Internet browser and placing calls using a single click. Additionally, Skype provides a screen sharing feature that allows you to share a computer screen with another person which is convenient for use with business or other uses.
Skype also provides you with access to Skype to Facebook which allows you to interact with your friends directly from the Skype application, and Skype Wi-Fi which provides you with access to public Wi-Fi hotspots around the world that are provided by Skype.
To get started using Skype all you need is a high speed Internet connection, a device with a webcam for video conferencing, microphone, and speakers. If your device does not have a microphone or speakers, you can choose to add a headset that has a mouthpiece attached. Skype also works on your Smart TV which allows you to make face-to-face calls from the comfort of your living room. This is a great way to communicate with family and friends at a distance.
Once you are sure you have the necessary equipment, you can log onto the Skype website, download the software, and get started making calls. You can choose the free plan, pay as you go with Skype Credit, or reduce your rates by signing up for a subscription. The best part is you can try Skype for free with no further obligation to make sure the service suits your needs and requirements.
The Skype website provides comprehensive information to help you get started. The information includes a Frequently Asked Questions page, knowledgebase, questions on payment and billing, introduction to Skype products and features, and assistance with technical issues.
The Skype website is also chocked full of helpful tutorials that provide step-by-step instructions, a user community where you can get questions answered, and a VoIP glossary. Unfortunately, there is no tech support number to call but you can contact Customer Service via email and live chat.
The Skype interface for laptop and desktop PCs is very straightforward and easy to use. If you use the mobile version of the interface, it is set up similar to the desktop version only with simplified features. Unlike the laptop or desktop version, the mobile app includes five different tabs which include Contacts, Call, Chats, My Info, and History. To initiate a phone call, all you have to do is select someone from your Contacts and tap on Audio or Video to start the call.
Once the recipient answers the call, if you are using video, the incoming caller’s image occupies the entire screen while the recipient is viewed in a thumbnail-sized image located in the bottom corner of the window. Tap the screen and a menu will appear that allows you to choose either the front facing or back facing camera on your mobile device, view the call time, place the microphone on the mute setting, or end the call.
Using an Android device as an example, here is more information on how Skype works for mobile devices.
Video Call Quality
If you are using a high quality device to access Skype and a high speed Internet connection, the video call quality is quite solid. Depending upon the environment lighting and the quality of the webcam, you can typically see facial features, skin tone, and color of clothing without experiencing any distortion. If the Internet connection is reliable, the audio quality should be reliable as well.
Even if the two devices are connected to different Internet services, as long as you have a high speed connection you will not experience dropped calls. Additionally, calls being delivered between two devices such as a smartphone and an iPad are strong enough to maintain a video call and high quality audio without experiencing any disruptions.
When compared to other VoIP applications such as ooVoo and others, tests showed that Skype demonstrated more efficient video streaming quality with almost no problems with disruptions or pixelation in the video. When used with an iOS device, Skype performed effortlessly when used with the FaceTime video chat application.
Skype Pros and Cons
Overall, Skype offers a low cost calling solution with a lot of great features that make communicating with friends and business associates easy and convenient. If you are wondering about some of the advantages and disadvantages, here are a few pros and cons:
- Skype is one of the most inexpensive VoIP services currently available with many different options for accessing a variety of services, along with subscriptions that allow for unlimited minutes.
- Skype is compatible with a broad range of devices that range from mobile devices to conventional computers and televisions.
- Calls can be made to any recipient, regardless of the device they are using to receive your call.
- Calls can be made to a landline or mobile phone at a very low cost.
- Skype offers its own devices on its website that are Skype-ready.
- The basic features included in the free plan are rather decent with access to voice and video calls, file sharing, instant messaging (IM), call forwarding, voicemail, and Caller ID.
- Paid features are cost effective and provide advanced features including video calls for as many as ten people, screen sharing with multiple people, and around the clock 24/7 tech support.
- Skype is easy to install and setup.
- Skype provides a lot of support for businesses with a variety of different calling options. Additionally, business users can use Skype Connect and Skype Manager to configure individual phone lines and distribute Skype credit to each individual account.
- There is no additional hardware required to install Skype which keeps telecommunications costs at a minimum.
- Skype users can cancel their account at any time without incurring additional fees.
- Depending upon the plan you choose, you may find the features to be limited in terms of lack of call blocking and 911 calling capability.
- If you choose the free plan, the technical support is limited when compared to a full blown subscription plan that offers access to tech support around the clock 24/7.
- For quality calling performance, you must have access to high speed broadband Internet which may be a problem in areas that lack access to mobile 3G or 4G, or broadband Internet access.
- For access to emergency calling, you must maintain a separate phone line.
- Some of the services must be acquired using Skype Credit which is Skype’s version of a digital wallet. If you do not use Skype Credit for a specific period of time (several years), your account will expire.
- If you fail to use the paid subscription service within the first two weeks of activation, Skype may cancel the service without any refund.
If you would like an overview of what it costs to use Skype services, here is a general summary.
Basic Service – Free
The free plan is Skype’s basic service and is available for any type of device. If you are downloading Skype onto a laptop or desktop computer, the download feature is readily available on the Skype website. Additionally, Skype makes the app available on their website if you are installing the basic service on a mobile device. The app is also available in the iTunes and Google Play store according to the mobile device you are using. The basic service offers video and voice calling, instant messaging, and file sharing.
Pay as You Go
The Pay as You Go plan allows you to use Skype Credit to make calls to virtually anywhere. All you have to do is sign up for Skype Credit and then use it when you need it. This plan allows you to call both mobile phones and landline phones around the world, as well as send and receive text messages. It also provides you with access to millions of Skype Wi-Fi hotspots around the world.
The Skype subscription plan is available for a set monthly fee and provides you with discounted calling rates to more than 170 countries across the globe. The subscription plan also provides you with unlimited calling with the lowest rates for long distance regardless of the time of day. This plan does not require a long term contract commitment.
Rates will vary according to the plan you choose and allow you to make calls to both mobile and landline phones. Here a general idea of the costs:
Across the United States: $7.99 per month.
International: $13.99 per month.
With unlimited calling you get up to 5000 minutes with the option to purchase an addition 5000 minutes for $30 per month using Skype Connect.
SMS Text Messaging
Instant messaging delivered to devices that are not enabled with Skype is available for 11.2 cents per message and is offered on a pay as you go basis.
The Bottom Line
The biggest advantage of using Skype VoIP services is the ability to use the service completely free and communicate with an unlimited number of other Skype users. Even if you opt for the paid services, Skype is very reasonable priced, especially if you compare it with plans from some of the major telecommunications carriers such as Verizon and others.
Although there are other VoIP options available, Skype is a very popular service with a lot of individuals and business users that prefer the service, despite the fact that the service is dependent upon data networks such as 3G, 4G, and broadband Internet. Plus, if you are lucky enough to reside in an area where mobile data or broadband Internet is constantly available, you may even consider Skype as your primary telecommunications provider. As long as you have a way to make an emergency call, it is not a bad option.
Overall, for those that do not need an excessive amount of calling features, the free plan is a great option. However, if you require a service that provides you with advanced features, you can upgrade to the paid service at any time. Skype is also risk free and you can try it at no cost before you commit to the paid service.
And although, Skype provides some great videoconferencing, file sharing, and screen sharing options, there are other VoIP services available that will provide you with more robust features if you need more flexibility and functionality. The paid features are quite decent but it all comes down to a matter of preference and communications requirements.
When compared to other VoIP services, Skype is a great low cost, entry level service that can be test driven at no cost and is easy to install and configure. It is definitely a service that is worth your consideration if your VoIP requirements are minimal to moderate and you are looking for a platform that is user-friendly and versatile. Plus, Skype is currently working on expanding its services and capabilities which makes it a company worth following over the next year or two.