It’s that time of year again when college freshmen pack up and venture away from family for the first time to pursue their aspirations for higher education. While many choose colleges and universities near home, a large number decide to study out-of-state and abroad. The transition to living hundreds or sometimes thousands of miles from home is a huge step for students who frequently find themselves homesick and calling high school friends and family. To ease this time of initial separation and to keep the lines of communications open throughout the school year, voice over internet protocol (VoIP) technology has proven to be an extremely useful tool for calling home easily and affordably.
VoIP technology that enables users to make calls over the Internet is the most cost-effective way to call long distance. It’s ideal for students who have computers but don’t necessarily have the budget for expensive landline or mobile calling plans. The most widely recognized provider of VoIP is Skype, and it’s certainly used by a large number of students around the world. However, Skype has many competitors that offer a variety of features that, in some cases, might deliver more benefits to college students living away from home.
What Skype Provides
Skype is well-known for providing free PC to PC calls. Users can simply download their software and start talking to others using Skype anywhere in the world. This is a great communications tool for those who have computers and have the technological savvy to download software and obtain the right hardware needed to make a call. Generally, a USB phone or a headset attached to the computer is what’s needed.
Skype becomes somewhat more complicated when trying to call a landline or a mobile phone. They have a “Pay As You Go” option and a variety of subscription plans that enable users to make these types of calls. However, rates vary per minute, and they add additional connection fees. There are also limitations worth noting and a “fair usage” policy in place on all Skype plans that can affect the cost of calls.
For students who have parents and friends who are also willing to talk via PC, Skype is a good option, but there are other less complex options for dialing mobile and landline phones.
MediaRing Talk Gaining Market Share
There are a growing number of VoIP providers entering the market vying to attract loyal customers who are either new to calling over the Internet or who are looking for an alternative to Skype. One company that has increasingly become well-known on campuses is MediaRing Talk. This provider, which has actually been offering VoIP service since the 1990’s, has taken a different approach to their service by primarily deriving their income through advertising, as opposed to paid subscriptions.
Like Skype, MediaRing Talk also offers free PC to PC calls anywhere in the world. However, its unique business model also allows users to take advantage of both unlimited free PC to landline and PC to mobile calls to eight countries, including the United States, Canada, the UK, and China. Calling rates to other destinations are, in many cases, less expensive than Skype and other competitors.
By giving students the ability to make free calls to PCs, landlines, and mobile phones, and by not having a complicated or expensive billing structure, MediaRing Talk has positioned itself as a smart choice in VoIP for college students, as well as for their family and friends.
What about Magic Jack?
It’s hard to turn on a television these days and not see the high energy infomercials for Magic Jack. Promoted as an easy-to-use gadget that enables anyone to call free within the U.S. and Canada, it’s basically a computer peripheral that plugs into the USB port of a PC. Priced at $39.99, it requires an Apple/Mac or Windows XP or Vista and a high-speed internet connection to function. The company offers free service for the first year and then $19.99 per year after that.
For users who are willing to outlay the initial cost, Magic Jack delivers the benefits of making free calls. However, there have been reported complaints from some customers over problems with billing, delivery, and service. It’s also not especially beneficial for individuals who primarily call overseas or for those who want to take advantage of common VoIP services such as instant messaging with presence or phone conferencing.
It has been four years since Google launched the beta version of Google Talk, their free Windows and web-based application for instant messaging and VoIP. Some swear by the service and utilize it for calling PC-to-PC, instant messaging, and sending and receiving voicemails. But, the service has some distinct limitations that are worth noting. Users must be signed up for Google’s email service (Gmail) to take advantage of the VoIP application, and it doesn’t provide the ability to call PC-to-landline or PC-to-mobile phones.
For students who only need the ability to call from a PC to another PC, Google Talk is free and simple to use. But, for expanded services, there are other providers that offer more options and flexibility.
College is definitely the time for students to spread their proverbial wings and discover new levels of independence. However, staying connected to loved ones back home is still important. VoIP technology delivers that ability to call family and friends and offers it for much less than traditional phone service. Of course, there are many VoIP providers to consider. Some offer basic calling capabilities and others provide a full range of services. Costs can vary dramatically. Students are wise to compare several providers before making a decision and to read the fine print before agreeing to any subscription or plan. By taking the time to do this initial research, the benefits and cost savings of VoIP can be substantial.