Skype is a free VoIP service for instant messaging, audio chat, video chat, and conferencing. There are also paid versions of Skype, by which users can contact non-Skype numbers and phones.
Like all VoIP, Skype is very dependent on users' Internet connections. In conference calls, lag can cause bursts of sound, sound interruption, call drops, etc.
Still, international rates are low and Skype is free between users of the service.
Here we'll review Skype features and pricing.
Skype supplies a free program to all of its users. It includes a contact list, recent conversations log, and an account profile (all trappings of Internet messaging systems). In an active call, you can have simultaneous chat and audio.
Skype also includes a softphone, i.e. a dialpad, for calling non-Skype numbers/users. You can use Skype wherever you have Internet and the installed software.
Skype now has mobile apps to accomodate cellular phones and tablets such as the iPad. The apps are similar to the free program, with instant messaging and unlimited Skype-to-Skype calls. There are low rates for Skype-to-phone calls, and Skype Mobile doesn't use up wireless minutes. Skype Mobile definitely requires a data plan, however. As with all VoIP, Skype uses the Internet for calls.
A neat little trick exists with some wifi portable devices, as well.
The iPod Touch can use Skype, for instance, because it is basically an iPhone without the cellular service enabled. On iPod Touch with WiFi, Skype calls are free if you download the Skype app from the iPhone App Store. You can also video chat with Skype on your iPod Touch.
Skype Phones, Webcams, Headsets
Skype has an ever-expanding list of accessories. More and more, it appears Skype is shifting to a service that many other residential and small office VoIP providers offer.
There are now Skype PBX systems for businesses. Skype can work with either SIP-enabled IP-PBX systems or legacy PBX with a SIP gateway.
The array of phones available for Skype range from USB phones for a PC or Mac to cordless handsets. There are also video phones that can access some content from the Internet.
If you want to use your plain old telephone with Skype instead, you can: Skype sells analog adapters to Skype subscribers and Premium users.
For the softphone user, Skype sells webcams, headsets, and microphones.
All payment plans require paying Skype for "Skype Credit," which can then be used for whatever plan fits your needs.
Free Skype functions much like a messaging/chat program or other free VoIP (like Ventrilo, Teamspeak, etc). Calls to other Skype users are free. There is video chat (one to one), screen sharing, and instant chat. You can use Skype for conference calling, and it is popular among casual users.
Pay As You Go
The Skype Pay-as-you-go plan starts at 2.3¢ a minute (for non-Skype destinations), along with a small connection fee. Connection fees typically run between $0.039-0.079USD. You can only call mobiles and landlines at the above per minute rate once you've purchased Skype Credit to cover it.
Subscriptions start at 1.2¢ a minute. Additional pricing per month is dependent on which countries you select. For example, Unlimited US & Canada costs $2.99 per month on top of the per minute charge. Unlimited Global is $13.99 a month and includes a list of 40 countries' landlines.
You can get a 15% discount if you sign up for an unlimited plan for 12 months.
Skype Premium features unlimited calling to the US and Canada, group video chat, and live chat customer service. Like basic Skype Subscription, you can get a discount for a 12 month subscription for $4.49/month, or a 3 month subscription for $6.74/month. The normal price is $8.99/month, only available in the US and Canada.
Fair Use with Skype Premium
As with all unlimited VoIP services, there is a Fair Use policy that prevents the system from abuse or "overuse." Skype Premium allows for 10,000 minutes per user per month, with no more than 6 hours of use a day.
Skype is a great free program for basic use, online gaming with external audio chat, and long-distance video calls to family and friends.
I was able to see my aunt's new kitten up close over video chat during a call, when she lives two states away. That's worth it to me.
The drawbacks are mainly lag and call quality, including call dropping, which can happen quite frequently in conferences.
Skype can also slow down a computer, using over 100,000kb of memory while idle. This can be a significant problem for older machines with low RAM when trying to multitask.
Skype has now instituted a rating system that pops up once you have completed a call, allowing users to give feedback on where it needs to improve quality.
As a propiertary VoIP service, Skype limits how many hours per day you can be in an active call. 6 hours is plenty for the casual user. However, it is not recommended for anyone but residential or some home office users; Skype does not support heavy calling time to landline or mobile numbers despite its total unlimited minutes. A small consulting firm, for example, can use the phone more than 6 hours a workday to contact contractors/employees, partners, and clients.
Skype also lacks some of the standard features of VoIP like voicemail, and focuses more on cheap calls and low-rate international calls.
There is no emergency calling for Skype as well, which is not so great for a primary home phone service.