In the beginning, we vacuumed. Then, we hoovered. Once upon a time, we searched. Now, we google. At present, we phone. In the not too distant future, we will… skype?
Following the purchase of some Skype phones for various family members this Christmas I have been very impressed by the quality and value for money this telephone-alternative provides. The implementation is stunning, and the Skype system makes it so simple that even the technologically inept can master it.
Skype is not a new idea, nor is it unique. Voice-over-Internet-Protocol (VOIP) has been around for some time in various implementations, and the same service is also provided by Windows Live Messenger and a whole host of other companies offering alternatives to the age-old telephone system we have become so attached to. The idea is that instead of transmitting audio down a phone line, we send it via the internet instead. Yes, I know, for most people the internet goes down the phone lines as well, but as far as I can tell the quality of service via internet far exceeds the traditional version.
This principle has been expected ever since the internet first started to become widely available to the public. The idea of video phone calls has been something of a sci-fi dream, but one that with the advent of internet communication seemed more and more like a real possibility. It was inevitable, therefore, that with ever-increasing internet speeds someone would eventually bring easy and effective communication to the masses. First off there was the text-based communicators, like IRC, ICQ, AIM, MSN, all of which allowed instant communication between two (or more) computers anywhere in the world. Various companies have tried to introduce video calling, such as in iChat AV and MSN Messenger, even the 3G phones jumped on that bandwagon, but so far it’s not been revolutionary enough for people to abandon their traditional phone lines completely.
This is where Skype may well be able to make a real difference. I’ve not been using it for very long, but so far I’ve been really impressed, so much so that I may never need to use my landline phone ever again. I’ve called people in the UK, I’ve had a conversation with family in America, and all without any noticeable time-lag or distortion, which is more than can be said for the more traditional phone calls. And here’s the best part – Skype to Skype is absolutely free! Now that’s what I can value for money! In addition, using the SkypeOut PAYG service you can also call conventional phone numbers at a fraction of the cost you would expect using a land line. You can even send SMS messages at vastly reduced rates too.
At the moment I’m using a VOIP phone for telephony, since I personally feel more comfortable talking into a phone rather than a headset (not sure I like looking and feeling like a telesales operator…), and this has been working really well. I use a Mac, so my options were a little limited on the compatibility front, but the IPEVO free-1 I have is superb. No built-in display, but since I’ll be sitting in front of my computer anyway that’s not really a huge issue. The sound is crystal clear, the phone itself is attractive and stunningly well built, and working with the Skype program is easy and intuitive.
At present my list of contacts is rather small, but the more people sign up to Skype (and inform me of the fact) the better it all will be. And especially if the call rates remain as mind-bogglingly low as they are at the moment, using a standard phone line to make phone calls seems quite illogical and unnecessary. But here’s the million dollar question – will it ever completely replace conventional phones? Maybe not imminently, but I can easily see this idea catching on as more and more people use the internet more proficiently. Give it a few years, and maybe, just maybe, we’ll be skyping each other all over the world.