Skype is a free softphone provided by Skype Technologies, which is a company based out of Luxembourg (which is a tiny country smackdab in the middle of Europe).
You can download Skype from Skype's website, install it on your computer, create a user account (for free) and use Skype to talk to people all over the world.
Skype is VoIP. Skype (like other VoIP services) changes the sound of your voice into data that can move over the Internet. You can also make video phone calls with Skype; basically, it's the same thing. It just sends your video image over the Internet.
Oh, and there's another reason that Skype's popular: Skype is free.
- Free calls
- Face-to-face calls
- Inexpensive public calls
Skype doesn't charge for calls between Skype users, no matter where they are. For that reason, Skype is great for international calls.
Skype also allows see the person you are talking to (as long as you both have webcams).
Skype also allows you to call the public network for a low price. Being able to call the public network means that you can call any number it the world. Skype's rates are very low (another reason why they are popular).
Skype does have some disadvantages.
- It's on a computer
- It's not always accessible
- It doesn't have 911
- It doesn't have voicemail
Basically, you have to have your computer on to use Skype. Also, since Skype uses the Internet, it doesn't have a physical location associated with your phone calls. That's why you can't make emergency calls with Skype: emergency services won't know where to go.
Residential VoIP providers solve several problems associated with Skype:
- Residential VoIP providers let you use a phone (not a computer)
- Residential VoIP providers let you have a voicemail or answering machine
- Residential VoIP providers allow you to call 911
- Residential VoIP providers will still save you money
Okay, so the last "problem" isn't really a problem for Skype.
Residential VoIP phone service does cost more than Skype, but you'll pay a set amount per month (or per year) instead of the fluctuating per minute rate that Skype offers (Skype will cost you less, it should be said).
But, unlike Skype, you'll always be able to get calls all the time (because you don't have to be next to your computer), get calls on a phone (see previous parentheses), and call 911.