Thursday, November 4, 2010

Making cheap calls from Europe

Disclaimer: I am giving my own account of these services, and have not been asked for nor compensated for my comments.

Overseas calls, especially from mobile phones, are hugely expensive in Europe.  Tariffs are generally in the 1 GBP (1.2 Euro) per minute range, and may include additional fees for network access.  I recently discovered that calls between the UK and the Netherlands were being billed at the same rate as calls to Chicago, which was a shock.  EU lawmakers and regulators have been trying for years to reduce roaming charges, but they are still very high by American standards and unlikely to change in the near future.

As a result, I rely heavily on Skype for international call services.  It works very well when both parties are members of the service, and I get good voice quality even on slower DSL connections. The text, video, and call conferencing services are also very useful;  my only complaints are that file transfer rates are abysmally slow and Facebook integration is a needless complication.  New ‘version 5.0’ features include the ability to log onto local internet services using Skype billing while on the road: not as good as ‘free Starbucks or McDonalds access (Amanda has a good review), but useful in a pinch at an airport or train station.

I added call forwarding (Skype calls forward to my cell phone), Skype Out (call from Skype to land line and mobile numbers), and Skype-to-Go (dial into Skype to call internationally at reduced rates) in support of my business.  However, since I registered with Skype from the US, Skype uses US rates.  So, while domestic calls are cheap, international ones are expensive.  This was driven home when I discovered that local call forwarding of Dutch numbers was being charged at international rates (below).  Beware!

Skype calls

I’ve recently registered with another reduced-rate provider, OperatorOne.  Unlike services that bill through the mobile phone account, these folks set up dedicated local dial-in numbers for each overseas number that I call.  My mobile bills only for the local call, and long-distance charges deduct from credits that I leave with OperatorOne.  So, here’s an example of my billing:

Operator One

It works pretty seamlessly: the only glitch that I’ve found is that the local number doesn’t hang up automatically if the long-distance caller hangs up.  Thus, I had a one hour ‘local call’ consisting of dead air when I didn’t notice that the phone was still connected even though the call ended.


Pi said...

Hi Dave,

Yes I agree that being in touch with everybody can be very expensive if you are abroad. I'm using Skype but also VoipBuster which offers free calls in several countries for calls made from your pc. You can use it 'pc to pc', 'pc to phone' and 'phone to phone' like the one you mentioned (which I didn't know!). Lately I am starting to use the 'phone to phone' modality and they only charge 5cents per call.

Dave Hampton said...

I have trouble dialing into Skype from my mobile: it seems like half the time, the other party can't hear me. I resolved to simply keep US calls short, but then got a monthly phone bill that was triple my normal month. When I looked at the details, it turned out that O2 piled charges onto calls to the Netherlands, not the US.

It really sent me off to find something better. I didn't try VoipBuster but looked at Planet Credit. It seemed good but I didn't want to get charged through the O2 bill, so that led me on to OpOne.

Orangesplaash said...

I used Skype initially but have been using Localphone a lot lately. They provide all the options like pc to mobile, pc to pc and mobile to mobile. I love their service and the voice clarity is also excellent.

Dave Hampton said...

Hi, and thanks for yorui comments! I feel like we're getting a good list of alternatives here: I haven't heard of LocalPhone either, but found the web site and will check it out.

'hope that life is good up in your part of the Netherlands!

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