The Hype about Skype

If you plan on going abroad or are one of the last remain-ing Americans who don’t own a cell phone, there is one computer program you must absolute-ly download. It’s called Skype. It’s to-tally free, and it provides the best way to keep in contact with anyone who has a com-puter, a high-speed internet connection and a microphone. Skype is a peer-to-peer program that allows the user to talk directly with another person anywhere in the world who has a Skype account. Us-ers also have access to free video conferencing. The interface is similar to an instant messaging pro-gram, which makes it easier to get used to — after getting over the initial “geekiness” of talking to a computer. But if your significant other decides to go abroad to England for a semester or your best friend packs up and leaves to take some time off from school, Skype is a way to keep in touch without go-ing bankrupt on phone cards or using up all your cell phone minutes. Conversations on Skype can lag for a few seconds de-pending on the speed of the internet connection, but the sound is very clear and there aren’t any dropped calls or choppy interruptions due to shoddy service. In the coming years, Skype just may wind up as the cheap replacement for landlines. Skype users have the option to buy a feature called SkypeOut if they wish to call someone else’s landline or cell phone. Fees for SkypeOut calls are as little as $0.21 a minute for calls made within the Unit-ed States, and rates for most international calls are very reasonable. Skype also offers unlimited calling within the U.S. and Canada for just shy of $15 for the entire year. Users can also purchase SkypeIn, which allows you to create a phone number for yourself, enabling anyone to call you on your computer from any phone. Interesting-ly, you may choose to use any area code when picking a phone number, allowing call-ers from that state to avoid long distance fees no matter where you happen to actually be. SkypeIn users also get a free voice-mail account with their phone number. These two features total up to $38 for an entire year. Considering the colossal cell phone bills of the average young American, Skype starts to look like an ap-pealing alternative. Another up-and-coming feature of Skype is its poten-tial for use in areas with wire-less internet access. New WiFi phones available from Belkin and Netgear allow Skype us-ers to access their accounts right on the wireless phone, allowing them to make calls without their computer from anywhere that has a wireless connection. This doesn’t sound like the greatest option at the moment, as free WiFi is relatively rare in Vermont. However, think of it like cell phone service – as more towers are built, bet-ter coverage becomes avail-able. If the city of Burlington moves towards free, citywide WiFi, Skype cell phones may become very plausible. Whether you use it for a se-mester or for your entire life, Skype is definitely worth a lit-tle investigation if you like to talk and are into saving some money.