How do I make a free long distance call on the Net?

Posted By : Ken Colburn of Data Doctors on March 13, 2000

Question

Can you tell me more about the ability to make long-distance phone calls via the Internet? Is it really free?

-Tex

Answer

This question was answered on March 13, 2000. Much of the information contained herein may have changed since posting.


We have all heard about making free long distance phone calls using the Internet and how it was going to put the long distance phone companies out of business It has been several years since the first web based phone call software was introduced and most of us are still using traditional methods for keeping in touch with others The reality of Internet based phone calls is that they are complicated, don’t generally sound as good as a regular phone call and required both parties to have computers configured with the same software and waiting for a call In most cases the caller had to make a regular long distance call to alert the receiver to start the software so that a second call could be placed via the Internet So called “early adopters” didn’t mind the major inconveniences, because they are just happy to be able to tell their friends that they “did it” In order for this form of communication to become truly mainstream, much of the confusion and complication will have to be eliminated.

About half of this complication has been eliminated by a company called DialPad.com (www.dialpad.com) DialPad.com allows Windows users to place a computer based phone call via the Internet to any standard phone In other words, only one party has to have a computer and an Internet connection You no longer have to spend 3 hours on the phone with mom in Iowa, walking her through downloading, installing and configuring a piece of software so that her computer can accept your Internet based phone calls DialPad is a free service that is advertiser supported and claims to have over 4 million registered users After a short question and answer registration process, you are ready to place a local or domestic long distance call to any standard phone in the U.S (including Alaska and Hawaii) At the moment international calls cannot be made, but according to the website they do plan to expand to the international market The sound quality of the phone call is largely based upon the equipment on the computer For the best quality a full duplex sound card and a headset w/microphone are important as well as a decent speed connection (33.6k or higher) The quality in most cases will not be as good as a regular phone call, but for free, this service ain’t bad!

If both parties are tech savvy or you would like to communicate with an international caller for free, you may want to consider a program like Internet Phone (available for Mac and Windows computers at www.vocaltec.com) In addition to being able to talk, you can also see each other using web cams, exchange files or even share documents in real-time Another piece of software that is already included in Windows 95/98/NT is called NetMeeting It is not as sophisticated as Internet Phone, but does allow you to communicate via the web as long as both parties are using it You can look for it by clicking on Start/Programs, then scroll down past the program groups to where the Microsoft programs such as Word and Excel reside.

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Posted by Ken Colburn of Data Doctors on March 13, 2000

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